IM-mediate Observations

A month ago, my school made the local paper for its work on WikiEducator: Taking knowledge around the globe.

Learning systems architect, Peter Rawsthorne, and I have now run three, three-hour online WikiEducator sessions with me in the room with them and peter working online, often from a cafe. We had a lot of fun together while working through the business of making wiki pages and pondering some far-ranging discussions about ownership of content and Creative Commons licensing. In January, we’ll start building content for WikiEducator.

Along the way, we’ve gathered some data about how 13- and 14-year olds interact with technology and about what they think of socially constructed knowledge.

Our immediate observations:

  • the students are quick to get any new technology to work and they are old hands at IM; but using IM for something other than idle chat was a novel idea for them.
  • the students focus on the last one or two things said in an online conversation so the threads easily unravel
  • the students can’t resist being funny in IM, especially in group chats, although they do settle down: by the third session, they were focused and kibbitzing no more than you’d find in a good round table meeting
  • that said, the students generally gave more good quality comments than they usually do in the classroom (this, however, may be because they were working in a small group)
  • the level of participation by each student parallelled their level of participation in class: some were prolific, some hardly typed a word
  • the students were impatient when instructions for the mechanical tasks they handle so easily, such as set up their profiles in WikiEducator, come via IM; it would have been faster to have the instructor in the room
  • making students work through complex ideas and instructions without a teacher over their shoulder had them working to help each other: once one student figured out how to upload a picture to a wiki page, he or she was happy to spread the wisdom
  • the students liked the idea that the conversation was recorded and that they could review it later at their leisure
  • the students are excited by the project and by the prospect of working with international students
  • they are really excited and motivated by the idea of collaborative constructing knowledge

Our lessons learned:

  • the students see IM as a toy, not a tool
  • they need to work more using IM so they begin to see it as a useful tool
  • so, teachers need to work more with IM
  • all this points to the need to develop the art of online conversation, or online critical discourse, which flows differently than face to face or phone conversations
  • IM in even modest-sized groups seems to be good for brainstorming ideas, not least of all because the students have a  searchable transcript of their conversation to mine for ideas long after the discussion is over
  • completing mechanical tasks using IM is frustrating because the students work faster than an instructor can type; it helps to have a reference page with detailed instructions/video explaining what to do
  • big screens are good as you need to keep a chat window open while working on whatever project is at hand; otherwise you’re flipping back and forth between windows too much


  1. Reply
    Island Pacific School Blog » Blog Archive » WikiEducator Part 1 December 21, 2008

    […] can read more of my observations on working online with students in IM-mediate Observations, a post my personal blog, A Stick in the […]

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    Brad Ovenell-Carter’s Master’s Thesis » Collecting and Analyzing Information March 18, 2009

    […] informal observations and assessment of this early work are posted on my blog in IM-mediate Observations, What can you do with 2.0? and 2.0 things I’ll try in ‘09.  Generally speaking, both students […]

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