In most if not all 1:1 student laptop initiatives, “instant messaging” is a hot topic for both students and teachers. Typically and predictably, students want access to instant messaging, while many teachers and administrators see IM as a distraction comparable to video games. Both IM and video games are often regarded as “problems” for the classroom teaching and learning environment, rather than powerful tools that can be leveraged for transformative educational experiences. Most school networks I have plugged my laptop into the past few years have had many instant messaging protocols blocked: Most have MSN blocked, many of AOL blocked, but Skype is new enough many schools do not block it. (Yet.)

As soon as students in a 1:1 initiative get their laptops, it is natural for them to want to play. Playing, in fact, is a primary source of learning for digital natives. Students want to play with video games, they want to play with social communication tools like IM and digital social networking (DSN) sites– and test the capabilities and limits of their computers. This is a natural process, and should be expected.

What should instructional technology leaders say to administrators and teachers who want to shut down ALL network access to instant messaging? I think this situation should be an opportunity for students to learn and practice contextually appropriate technology use… but the tendency is for pro-IM voices to be drowned out by digital immigrant teachers shouting, “Shut them down! Shut them all down!”

About six months ago I wrote an article for the TechEdge titled, “Skype in the Classroom.” While I mentioned some of the instructional benefits and possibilities of using Skype VOIP technologies (for audio conferencing), I did not address the benefits of using IM and videoconferencing.

The best way for advocates for instant messaging in the classroom to win the hearts and minds of the conservative and reactionary digital immigrants who likely control the IT policies in their school district is to DEMONSTRATE the benefits of these technologies in a pilot initiative. Does anyone know of published educational research out there on the potential benefits of IM in classrooms? I think we need more research work in this area. Here are some potentially helpful articles from Google Scholar:

  1. Introducing chat into business organizations: toward an instant messaging maturity model
  2. The character, functions, and styles of instant messaging in the workplace
  3. When conventions collide: the tensions of instant messaging attributed
  4. Instant messaging and the future of language
  5. Instant Messaging, Literacies, and Social Identities
  6. Keeping Technology at Bay in the Classroom

A few of the potential benefits of IM in the classroom which should be highlighted in conversations like this include:

  1. Opportunity to bring real-world experts into the classroom (who wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit)
  2. Opportunity to bring greater levels of interactivity and engagement into classroom lessons for students
  3. Opportunity to use real-world tools students will use outside the classroom walls and in real life
  4. Opportunity to contextually address and discuss Internet safety issues, appropriate use of IM technologies, etc.
  5. Opportunities for students to learn and practice effective digital collaboration techniques.

All of these reasons to use IM in the classroom focus on OPPORTUNITIES. These opportunities, however, represent CHANGE to traditional patterns of content-focused and teacher-directed learning that many digital immigrants view with fear. But this is exactly the reason why leaders in digital education methodologies should embrace, model, and promote use of disruptive technologies in classrooms! Like the laptops themselves in a 1:1 learning environment, use of IM by students should challenge educators to evaluate the level of engagement their students presently have with their “traditional” approaches to teaching and learning, and the authenticity of the assessments being employed to measure student learning.

I’m going to consider writing my next TechEdge article on this topic: “The case for instant messaging in the classroom.” If you have thoughts about reasons this case should be made or ways it can be made more persuasively, I’d love to hear them! :-)


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  • http://www.mguhlin.net/blog Miguel Guhlin

    Wes, I see potential applications of Dr. Judi Harris’ work to Skype use in the classroom. I touched on it here, and promised to explore it further….

    http://www.mguhlin.net/blog/archives/2006/08/entry_1887.htm

    Best wishes,
    Miguel

  • http://www.onlineprojects4teachers.com/wordpress/ Jennifer W

    Well, honestly, my knee jerk reaction was “OH NO.” But then I sat back and thought about it and came up with some ways it could work.

    But I think the intitial novelty of it will be frustrating for the average teacher — and the teacher not used to the use of technology will be more than a bit frustrated.

    But if online collaboration is what we are all so excited about and is what our students are using daily — then this is another way to utilize that skill in a productive and useful way.

    I think the problem lies in with the novelty of this concept and not only the freedom it allows the students but also the TRUST that will have to be held by the teacher. I presume that there will be students who totally take advantage of this — but wouldn’t that be the same in any situation?

    If there were guidelines, expectations, and teacher flexability — I think that this could work. But — I think my knee jerk reaction will be common one — and teachers will need to be given time to think it through and be brave to try something new to them.

    Jen

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Yep, I agree. Most will ban it. Few will embrace it. Those that do embrace it, if they manage it well (which is all about giving the kids engaging tasks to accomplish and being a good TEACHER, with our without technology) I think it could be VERY powerful for learning. Unfortunately most school districts, at least for now, probably won’t allow that outcome to happen. :-(

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  • http://www.firsteuropa.nl Alice Mike

    Eerst Europa Doelstellingen: De Ci2i Verzekering (Ci2i) zal het nummer een gebrandmerkte pan Europese commoditized online verzekeringsmakelaar door 2010 zijn.

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