Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Makes a Chat a Chat?

I had the opportunity last week to participate along with the amazing Jim Burke from English Companion in an Education Week/Teacher Magazine chat on Social Networking and Teacher Professional Development. I hope some people found it useful and I appreciate the folks at Education Week/Teacher Magazine that put this together. None of the rest of this post is meant to disparage those folks, but simply to ask the question: What makes a chat a chat?

We used CoverItLive for this and Jim and I were fed questions throughout the hour long chat. People in the chat submitted a question, the moderator decided which questions to put through, and Jim and I responded (toward the end of the chat a few comments/thoughts were approved, not just questions, but for most of the chat it was just questions). So this seemed to end up being more of a moderated "panel" discussion than what I think of as a "chat." For most of the hour it was just Jim and I responding to questions, which is not exactly what I think of when I think of chat. Some people on Twitter noted the same thing, expressing some frustration that their questions/comments/thoughts were not getting approved.

As it was happening, I felt myself becoming frustrated as well that it wasn't truly a "discussion" as I've come to expect it. As I was thinking about it later, however, I began wondering exactly how I would've structured it that it would've been any better. My natural inclination was to suggest that it should've just been an unmoderated chat, or at least a moderated chat where every on-topic comment was immediately approved. But, with a large audience (apparently over a thousand people at least asked for email reminders of the event), I'm thinking that wouldn't work so well. So I'm guessing that the format they chose was actually not a bad choice, but perhaps I would've chosen not to call it "chat."

Which brings me to the point(s) of this post:
  • What exactly makes a chat a chat?
  • How many people can be in a chat before it no longer works?
  • What's the best format for these Education Week/Teacher Magazine "chats" that have large audiences? And is there a different tool than CoveritLive they could use that might work better?
  • Are there ways to meet the needs of diverse participants - some of whom are used to very fast and furious chats and some of whom are not? Or do we simply have to create different events for different online learning styles (keeping in mind that people's styles might change with experience)?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

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