It's a skill students need, and it doesn't mean talking at the water cooler.
I first used online chat tools as a teenager, talking with my friends via AOL Messenger. Little did I know at the time, that this would be one of the top forms of communication I would later use in my professional life. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people, all over the world, in a wide variety of industries, communicate over chat tools like Slack, Voxer, Skype, etc..
Communicating via chat while a project is in process helps teams get work done faster and, often, more efficiently. It helps teams (both remote and onsite) stay connected and aligned as they work to complete projects, rather than waiting until work is complete to assess if everyone is on the same page.
Chat is shaping how teams communicate in the workplace. Just as writing a professional and clear email is a critical skill to introduce early to students, understanding the nuances of online chat, and the skills to use the tool effectively will become as critical for students to learn in school. Just as important, students must learn to talk with each other about their learning, in real-time, as it progresses.
So, why is chat unique? And what are the skills that students need to develop, in order to do it effectively?
Move at the speed of progress. One of the advantages of using chat over other forms of communication (like sending an email, or scheduling a meeting), is that it is one of the quickest ways to help someone get up-to-speed on your progress. When using chat for work, the goal is to communicate the status of a project, what questions you have, and what challenges are in the way of progress, and to do it quickly. Yes, grammar might take a hit here, but the key skills are to communicate both efficiently and effectively.
How to model this in the classroom: The best way to model chat in the classroom is to treat it as a formative assessment tool. This gives students the flexibility to communicate at the same speed as their learning, not just their assignments, and to de-emphasize some traditional aspects of writing instruction. It helps your students practice articulating their process and needs, and it also provides you with a window into each student's progress.
Casual, yet professional. I mentioned that grammar will likely take second seat in working-chat conversations. And it might be hard to hear for any avid grammarians out there. The key to remember is that not all professionalism goes out the window. It is a relatively nuanced skill that students will need to develop, to distinguish between writing nice-to-haves (like perfect spelling and grammar) and communication must-haves (maintaining an appropriate tone with peers).
How to model this in the classroom: This is a great opportunity to help your students dig into what aspects of communication are most important for the learning objective. Students may be very excited to realize they can be more informal in their writing, but they should keep in mind that they still need to communicate clearly, and consider how to do both at once.
Identify when chat is not enough.One of the key values of using chat is to help surface when it is time to discuss something more deeply to develop stronger alignment or understanding of a topic. Typically this is done through meetings, video conferences, etc.
How to model this in the classroom: The same value can be brought to the classroom. Augment the chat conversation when the conversation deserves a deeper dive, by posting a question for video response, or by posting a Recap Journey with resources to help students investigate a topic further. Over time, you may even give them the reins, empowering them to decide when video responses or more resources are needed.