Yes, and no.                                                

Having the chat option open from the word go in an online tutorial can present problems for both you and the students. Whilst it may seem ideal for students to be able to interact when something comes to mind, the reality is that whatever else you are hoping will happen at the time they are chatting, like them listening to information or explanations, just won’t happen. This can be explained by dual coding theory.

Dual coding theory essentially tells us that we encode information via 2 channels in the brain, the auditory channel and the visual. Reading, listening and writing all fall under the auditory channel, and seeing and physical interactions fall in the visual channel. The theory informs educators that combining content in multi modal forms will enhance the encoding of that content, but crucially, also tells us that if you present multiple pieces of information in a single channel, the working memory will have to decide what to attend to, at the expense of the competing stimuli.

In other words, you can’t do two things at once in a single channel. If you expect students to read at the same time as listen to instructions or explanations, one of those requests will be compromised (a common mistake made in lecture theatres and classrooms worldwide when talking over PPT slides full of text). If you expect students to write at the same time as listening to instructions or explanations, they won’t be able to do it as efficiently as if only focusing on one stimulus. So, students typing away and responding to the online chat means they aren’t listening to you or paying attention to any text you may be presenting. It would be the same in a face to face setting: they would be talking to each other and therefore not attending to you.   

My advice would be, analogous to a regular face to face learning context, to restrict the availability of the chat to specific times in the session. Assessing for learning is of course crucial in a session, and the chat area is a good means of doing this, but you can’t hope to assess for learning if the students weren’t listening in the first place. Opening the chat up at specific times will maximise this avenue of assessing for learning.

Having said that, we do want to encourage students to write down questions that arise from your delivery, otherwise they undoubtedly will be forgotten. So to facilitate this, using Zoom, you would select the ‘HOST ONLY’ option (see the images below for how to do this). Only you will see the questions, and this means that other students won’t get distracted – and certainly not by completely unrelated comments that inevitably will propagate in the space. You will then perhaps dedicate a time after your delivery to address those questions that have come up…and then open up the chat lines for interactions.

Select the ellipsis on the RHS of the chat box
Select host only

For a step by step guide, view this video

So, in summary, by reducing the opportunities students have to lose concentration in a learning environment, you will increase the likelihood that they will be attending to what it is you want them to be focusing on. Of course, some classes will have the maturity to engage appropriately with the chat function and such measures of control won’t be necessary.

In the next post I will discuss other ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING opportunities in the online space.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer. Follow me on @twitter

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