Maximizing the Chat Feature in the Virtual Classroom

What’s one feature that exists in a virtual classrooms and virtual meetings but not in face-to-face settings? The chat box! The chat feature allows participants and facilitators to communicate throughout a session. When used effectively, chat can enhance your session in many ways. Here are six tips to keep in mind to maximize the chat feature in the virtual classroom:

  1. Work with a producer

It’s difficult to lead a session and follow an active chat box. So, a good work around is to partner with producer and assign him/her the role of managing the chat messages. Alternatively, work with a co-facilitator and take turns speaking and monitoring chat.

2. Say it and type it for maximum clarity

Type any verbally posed questions in the chat area to ensure that participants understand your intention. For example, the facilitator poses the question while the producer simultaneously types the question into the chat area. Be clear about how you want participants to respond to any question that you pose —via chat or verbally.

3. Tell participants at the beginning of the session that the facilitation team is monitoring the chat area.

If you tell your audience to use the chat, you give them permission to type. A failure to encourage the use of chat as you start your session will leave people wondering if they should use it or not. Maybe a brave soul will get the ball rolling, but don’t leave it to chance!

4. Be deliberate with responses

Use the @mention technique, commonly used in social media, to signal who is the intended recipient.

5. Create a text file with key messages and links in advance

It’s easy to get distracted in a virtual meeting so using chat to reinforce key messages is a way to bring a person’s focus back to the screen. You can also use chat to share links to resources that you want people to check out.

6. Let participants answer each other’s questions 

Encouraging this behavior helps to build a sense of community and trust among participants.

7. Weave chat comments and questions into your verbal discussion

When a participant asks a good question or adds an interesting comment via chat, mention it verbally and name the person to help personalize the discussion.

And finally, in case you are a facilitation team of one, your best option is to pause periodically to review the comments posted in the chat area and respond verbally. You can do this by building in small breaks in your content to review the chat box or pause and review the chat while participants are working on an exercise.

The chat feature is probably the easiest and most commonly used feature in a virtual classroom. So make the most of it by using it early and often in your next virtual meeting or virtual learning event.