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Technology Tip of the Month

April, 1997: CHAT Information

If you're like most teachers, you have some students who like to talk and may monopolize a conversation, and some who will barely speak when spoken to. You'll probably have quite a few students who are somewhat less than totally enthralled with writing in English, too. If you're in an EFL setting, finding a reason for students to write to each other in English is often a stretch. The Tech Tip this month offers one approach to addressing these classroom issues: online, real-time discussions with Chat.

I'll be using as an example here Global Chat, which is a program (a chat 'client') that makes a lot of Chat operations easier. There are other chat clients out there that work quite well, as well as variations on the chat theme that work on the Web (more on those in a later Tech Tip). A good description of using Chat in the classroom is given by Marsha Chan in her conference presentation (available in text form online) called "No Talking, Please, Just Chatting: Collaborative Writing with Computers" at

Quick Vocabulary to Know

Channel: One of several hundred or more 'chat rooms' on a single chat server. You connect to a channel in order to join a group of people that you can communicate with.

Chat room: One term for where you chat (virtually speaking)

Chat server: The address you type in Netscape or elsewhere in order to connect to a chat room. With Global Chat, the chat server is A chat server hosts hundreds or thousands of individual 'channels' or 'chat rooms.'

Chat: a program that lets anyone connected at the same time type to everyone else.

Join: To sign up for a specific channel/chat room. You can join and leave at will.

Leave: To quit a specific channel/chat room.

Lurk: To read what others are writing without joining in. It's a good idea when you start out in a general chat room.

Operator: The first person on a channel is called the channel operator. If you know the right commands, you can restrict access to your channel, kick malfeasants off, only allow certain people to post messages, etc. See Slash commands below for how to control a channel.

What to watch out for when connecting to a public channel:

1) Don't use your full name

2) Don't give your e-mail address. With some chat programs you can enter personal information. Don't do it.

Women often find it useful not to have names that are obviously female. If you are on a class chat line, it is not as much of an issue as long as the channel operator (the teacher) knows how to control access to the channel.

Tips on Using Chat with a class

Your first step is to join a channel. The teacher should find an unused name or channel number and join it first to be sure that s/he will be the operator, then tell the students what channel to join. (Examples of doing this with Global Chat are below.)

To keep the discussion within the class, the teacher can make the channel "secret" so that it will not appear on a list of chat channels. Those who know the name will have no trouble joining. Use this syntax on Global Chat, and something similar with other Chat clients:

/mode #channelname +s
Example: /mode #esl +s (Channel esl will not be mentioned on the list of channels)

See below for more details.

In a class channel, the teacher will set the basic rules about appropriate and inappropriate messages. In general, students should be as polite to one another online as you would expect them to be in person.

Since several people can be sending messages at once, don't just say "I agree" or "I disagree." Several messages may be on the screen before your message gets posted, and readers won't know what you agree or disagree with. Students should be explicit about what they are responding to.

Using Global Chat

( Download a copy)

When you open Global Chat, you'll get this:

Your first step is to Join a channel by pulling down the Channels menu and selecting Join Channel. Type the channel name in the Join box. You'll next see

To send a message to everybody, type the message in the Send: box and press return. You generally want to keep "to everybody" checked, but you can send a private message to an individual on your channel by clicking the "to:" button and then double-clicking on their nickname in the list above it. Don't forget to click back on the "to everybody" button.

Your message will appear on the large screen, along with everyone else's messages.

Slash Commands (taken from the Global Chat Help Manual)

Make sure the slash is the leftmost item and that there is no space between the slash and the command that follows it.

Useful for students to know, especially on a public chat channel

/mode user +p
This protects the user named in user from "private" messages, some of which may be highly unwanted. Change it back to permitting private messages with /mode user -p

Useful for teachers to know

/topic #channelname text
Example: /topic #esl ELI162 class discussion
Sets topic of the named channel to the given text. You must be Channel Operator for the channel.
/mode #channelname +s
Example: /mode #esl +s (Channel esl will not be mentioned on the list of channels)
Make the channel unlisted ("secret") (+s) or listed (-s). Users cannot see secret channels in the channel listing. Anyone who knows that the channel exists is free to join it. Newly created channels are listed. This will effectively isolate your group from casual chatters. If you do this, it is unlikely that you will need to set a password, moderate the list, or kick someone off.
/mode #channelname +k password
Example: /mode #esl +k sesame (Makes 'sesame' the operator password on channel esl)
Set an operator password ("key") (+k) on a channel. Note that "/mode -k" does not remove the password. To remove a password, an operator can use "/mode +k" without a new password. If you set a password, you can leave the channel and rejoin it later by typing /join #channelname password
/mode #channelname +m
Make the channel moderated (+m) or unmoderated (-m). Users cannot send to this channel unless the /mode +v command is used. Newly created channels are unmoderated. This is generally not necessary, but keep it in mind in case you start getting unwanted visitors and don't want to make your channel secret.
/mode #channelname +v user
Allow (+v) or disallow (-v) "user" to speak on the named (moderated) channel. This is one way to keep unwanted guests from intruding.
/kick #channelname user [reason]
Forces a user to leave the named channel. The "reason" portion is optional, but can be a short comment as to why you removed that person. You must be Channel Operator for the channel. On Global Stage servers, a kicked user will automatically be banned from rejoining the channel for about 10 minutes and can be allowed back via "/mode -b" (see below).
/mode #channelname +b
This works in conjunction with /kick (see above). Typing /mode +b will show a list of users (by their IP addresses) who have been kicked, and the amount of time (in seconds) remaining until they will be allowed back on the channel. To allow a user back on the channel before the time limit has expired, use /mode #channelname -b ipaddress where ipaddress is the IP address from the list you get by typing /mode +b

My experience with using Chat in class has been that for the first time, I could get more or less equal participation in a discussion. The quiet students felt free to let their virtual voices be heard, and the monopolizers couldn't take over -- after all, there is no way to close off others from writing and posting messages while one person is typing. The only drawback would be in a class where some students were unable to type, while others were fast typists. Where most people fall in the middle range in typing speed and ability, there's no problem.

I'll be using Chat in most of my writing classes in future--if you try it, let me know how it worked for you.

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If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009