Yesterday I worked with our 6th grade students (11 and 12 year olds) to discuss the issue of cyber bullying and cyber harassment, an issue that statistically speaking, young people are likely to deal with. It is my goal that students come to use digital communication tools in powerful ways. Chat rooms have the potential to be an extremely powerful way to learn, have a conversation, and exchange ideas. However, it seems that some folks often times have a difficult time focusing in chat room discussions.
So for this lesson, I decided to try to engage all of the students through the use of a live, moderated chat experience on the topic of cyber bullying. We used Cover It Live as our chat tool, and I embedded a different chat session on a wiki for each of the 5 sections that I worked with. Through the context of this chat discussion, I was then hoping to have the opportunity to discuss issues of etiquette in group chat rooms.
I started out the lesson by telling the students we were going to be talking about cyber bullying and that we would be doing so in a different way. By a show of hands, I asked the following questions:
1. How many of you use conference/group chats for social purposes? Many hands were raised.
2. How many of you have used conference/group chats to discuss homework and project with your peers? Many hands were raised.
3. How many of you have used conference/group chats for a discussion with a teacher that relates to school? No hands were raised.
After question #3, I explained to them that this is what we would be doing during class. I then went on to cover the following ground rules and points of chat room etiquette.
Here were the ground rules:
1. Take this experience seriously and honestly
2. Sign in with your first name and last initial. This sets the tone so the experience can be more focused. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the use psuedonyms for screen names can often times encourage mischievous use.
3. It is OK to disagree, but no flaming.
We also talked about some group chat etiquette such as not writing in caps, using the "@" sign to direct a comment at someone specifically, welcome new users to the chat by saying "hello Bobby," and by writing complete thoughts instead of 2-3 word phrases (which are of course OK for some things during the flow of the chat conversation, but not as the sole means of communicating). And of course I really encouraged the students to stay focused, and to not meander into socializing via the chat tool.
I then pointed the students to the wiki where the Cover It Live chat was posted, had the students enter their first name and last initial, and then they began responding to the initial question, "What is cyber bullying." From here, the discussion exploded, with students asking questions, answering questions posed from each other, and responding to an occasional question that I dropped into the conversation (I asked questions like, "are there differences between the way girls and boys bully," "what is the difference between playground bullying and digital bullying," etc). The discussion really amazed me, with students asking questions like, "Mr. M, have you ever been bullied?" and "@everyone-who has been cyber bullied before?" Derrall Garrison, a Earthcast/Twitter buddy of mine, was kind enough to pop into the chat for 5 minutes or so. Several students said hello to him and he replied by saying, "@everyone...thanks for making me feel welcome here." It was a great live model for the students to experience. We also skyped with Pam Shoemaker, and we talked about etiquette in online chat rooms. This was a nice chat as well, and Pam and I talked a bit about the Earthcast when there were a few times where some folks lost focus.
I'm convinced that live discussions through chat sessions have the potential to activate more brains than the typical classroom discussion where only one person speaks at a time. Granted this wouldn't be the way I would want to host a discussion every time, but blending this approach with others really has the potential to go a long way in touching on the many different learning styles present in classrooms.
The last question I had the students respond to related to how they liked this activity. Unfortunately I only had 40 minutes or so with each of the 5 sections and we only had a minute or so to reflect on the experience. But if you review the chat log below, you'll see that many students really enjoyed engaging in this discussion using this new medium and had positive things to say about it (some thought the activity was silly as we were chatting with peers that we were sitting right next to).
Quick note-Cover It Live wasn't the best tool for this discussion, but it served its purpose. It was actually kind of nice being able to approve/disapprove discussion from the administrator consul prior to the comments appearing in the chat. Many students had to refresh their browser window to get the chat to update, which meant they had to re-enter a user name once again before posting a comment.
Chat log from 3 of the 5 sections