Using Chat in Zoom

Zoom’s chat feature can be a great resource – but are also a potential distraction when teaching. Learn how to selectively use it within your class, or disable it to avoid interruptions

Understanding Zoom chat

The chat feature within Zoom enables the host and other participants to send text messages, including hyperlinks to one another. This can prove useful in allowing the instructor to share instructions that can then be viewed in breakout rooms, or links to external websites that may be useful to the class. The ability for students to share information may either be deemed useful, either in a limited role (e.g., to highlight any important issues to the professor, such as a student relaying that other class members are trying to enter from the waiting room), or as a more active component in the class whereby students are either encouraged to partake in discussion among themselves during the class or to use the chat to raise questions that the instructor can then respond to. 

There are four possible settings for who participants within the call are able to chat with:

  • No one
  • The host only
  • Everyone publicly
  • Everyone publicly and privately 

As indicated below, while chat can have a valuable role within the class environment, enabling chat feature also has limited, with the potential of being distracting or disruptive. As such, it is useful to consider the extent to which you consider chat can enhance your classes and to restrict the ability to use Zoom chat accordingly.

Considerations for using chat

While some professors are able to successfully integrate chat into their classes, either as an interactive component of class participation or as a more restricted sense, it also has the possibility of introducing more issues than are solved.

Distractions of the chat feature

One of the key considerations against enabling the chat feature between students is that messages popping up during discussion can be disruptive and interrupt the flow of the class. Similar to in-person environments, there are a lot of components that an instructor needs to monitor during their delivery of content, including the students, slide decks, how they are delivering the material. Having a flashing text-notification or sound alert mid-conversation can both be distracting and potentially derail a chain-of-thought, as the instructor consciously or inadvertently looks at the notification (in a similar way to how receiving text-messages mid-presentation is unlikely to enhance the other delivery of an in-person class). While it is possible to ignore the chat conversation, giving students the option of say asking questions via chat loses its benefit if it is largely unmonitored by the instructor during the class. 

Possibility of side-conversations

Another consideration associated is the extent to which enabling the chat encourages unmonitored side-conversations during the class. On the one hand, students may be able to get clarifications from fellow students mid-presentation in a manner that would not be possible otherwise. However, it is also possible that a side or potentially tangential or incorrect conversation may develop, either with students complaining that they too are not following, or potentially responding with erroneous information that may further exacerbate learning issues.

Clear expectations of the role of chat

Irrespective of the role that you envision of chat in the class, it is useful to indicate to students at the very start of the semester your expectations (potentially disabling the feature as appropriate), so that you are able to discourage or prevent use that may negatively impact the class. 

Summary

The chat feature in Zoom has the potential of being useful – there may be occasions where it is useful to have students discussing the material or sharing information. However, it can also be distracting or lead to side-conversations. If you want to restrict the use of chat, see your guide on how to both permanently and temporarily restrict the chat feature.  

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