On the foot of preparation for Thursday, I took out a large wall map of the world and circled each of the countries participating. Using the notice on whazzup, we identified what countries were in what time zone, and looked at the difference between Ireland and Korea. I think it began to dawn that as we were in class at 10 am today, other students had their days work done and were probably at home relaxing. It certainly gave pause for thought.
While students were active in the main chat room, teachers opened up private chat rooms to share ideas about the progress. This proved a useful feature.
Some technical hitches were encountered, too, which seems unavoidable whenever trying to work syncronously over space and time. At one point it looked threateningly that we wouldn't manage to get anybody from Asia to join us Europeans. Although the students were ready and keen in their ICT room in Sabah, Malaysia in the evening the chat just wouldn't work for them. The teacher shared their frustration on wall posts:
All in all, I would say this first chat experiment was well worth it. Our students in Finland were surprisingly excited about it all day. Some even revealed that they had never chatted online in a foreign language before!
Other participants have given quite positive feedback, too.
Just to say that the chat on Thursday went really well. As I said to Sinikka, I overheard a student say it was better than Bebo and that is a very big compliment. It created a great buzz with the students wanting to stay on-line for longer than originally intended.
I think that during the chatting the students have exchange many interesting information. They have spoken about their school, about the uniform in school, about the different time zone. Someone asked where is Cyprus, our students try to know about the political problem in Ireland and they try to tell the others about our political problem but this was without success. They have spoken with success about the weather.
And certainly it created momentum for the project in Malaysia, where suddenly more and more students wanted to join the Ning and become part of the network. In actual fact, all through the chat one of my main jobs was approving new members from there. I was quite touched by some of their reactions, which was a good reminder that not all teenagers all over the world are as blase about participating in online social networks as we might expect.
As a final remark, another feature missing on Ning is having access to past chat logs. Once the chat is over, and even during it whenever a limited number of visible lines on the screen is exceeded, the comments are simply wiped off into the void of virtual space. That is why I was busy taking screenshots all through the chat to have at least some record of what was going on. It might be useful to be able to go back to the whole chat session, especially as I enjoy doing small case studies on young people's communication patterns in international projects.
We are definitely going to try the chat again during this spring term, but in new and improved ways. Firstly, we will seriously have to limit the number of participants per chat to make it more manageable and productive. This will involve a lot of joint coordination and planning between teachers in advance. We will also need to find out about options for grouping students during the chat, as one colleague pointed out:
if we do it again (which I hope we will) it might be an idea to form groups with a student from each country in a group. With so many exchanges as on last Thursday, the speed makes it difficult to keep up, even for our tech savvy students!
Secondly, I feel that, despite the obvious advantage of everyday chit chat for lower level learners of English, as mentioned before, more attention will have to be paid to defining a purpose for the chat to enhance the overall learning experience.
Other forms of syncronous exchanges have also been suggested by colleagues:
with the Polish and Russian students we've had two skype sessions.. we could do that with yours.. so the students, instead of just chatting on the net, could talk.
As inviting as adding voice to the chat sounds, unfortunately we don't access to Skype at school, so that is out. There must be other tools available for this, but for now they will have to wait till a later time.