Instant Messaging allows for "instant" communications between people. Is this type of communication necessary or just a distraction for students? To answer this question we need to look at the benefits, the drawbacks, and possible uses of Instant Messaging (IM) in the classroom. Benefits of Instant Messaging include greater interactivity, engagement, and collaboration between students. IM allows for real-time communication. IM is rapidly growing as a primary communications technology among corporate, educational and home users according to the article Instant Messaging – Collaborative Tool or Educator’s nightmare. Robert Farmer writes; "A vital technology for this generation is instant messaging—or “IM,” for short. IM is thus an ideal technology for today’s students" (Instant Messaging: IM online! RU?). Students will be learning how to use the technology that is the primary communications technology among corporate, educational and home users.
Privacy and security concerns along with its potential as a time waster are seen as the biggest drawbacks of Instant Messaging (Instant Messaging – Collaborative Tool or Educator’s nightmare!). Students will be able to chat with strangers and others outside the classroom, receive pornography and computer viruses can be transmitted through IM. It is also impossible for anyone to monitor all the IM at one time. Despite these drawbacks Instant Messaging can be very valuable in the classroom.
You can bring real-world experts in the classroom via instant messaging. You can also communicate and send files to groups of students instantly. Students will be able to get the answers to questions and collaborate in real-time. This allow the students to remain connected something students think is essential (Instant Messaging – Collaborative Tool or Educator’s nightmare!). Instant Messaging is also a critical tool for multi-tasking which has become a way of life. Certainly IM is a valuable tool that has many uses in the classroom. But will IM be used correctly by all students? Will IM be abused? Can the safety of the students be assured?
Perhaps IM that can be regulated and restricted can help to assure the students safety. There are many Instant Messengers that can be used on the local area network (LAN). LAN instant messing networks create provides security. This allows most of the benefits of IM with little of the risks. Bonjour is a LAN IM for Macintosh that is now available for Windows. Instant Messaging just like any other tool should be used appropriately and students should be educated on the use of the tool. Regulations and Netiquette should be established when using IM. It is important that the Teacher have training and experience in using IM or any other tool they allow their students to use. Instant Messaging used properly is a very powerful tool.
Students in my classes use Bonjour for collaboration. I also use Google Talk with some of my presentations. Students ask questions, make comments and watch the presentation. This gets the students involved and keeps them engaged. I believe this is a good experience for the students. I used IM when I was absent for several days. The students were very responsive. I was able to answer questions about assignments. But the best part of this experience was just talking to the students, it was a very positive experience. I have used IM to collaborate with teachers. Sending files for printing, images for assignments and communicating about projects are a few of the uses for IM with other teachers. This could also be a way to contact the office. I have also used IM with Dell to troubleshoot computer problems.
Based on your experience with Instant Messaging is IM the tool for you and your students? What do you think?