No gain without pane: using chat for interaction

As part of the Open University’s M.A. module “The Networked Practitioner” I have been taking part in the online conferences with keynote speakers and 15-minute inputs from fellow students. Using Blackboard Collaborate, in its guise as OU Live, on 3 occasions 15-20 people from round Britain and further afield got together to present input and to discuss that input.

What have I learned from this activity?


  • the system certainly worked.
  • As long as individual participants had set up their own sound system correctly, we could all hear each other well and without frustration
  • Slides were all displayed without problem, having been uploaded in advance to the tutor.
  • I did not manage to upload a video clip in advance as there seemed to be a permissions issue. I would need to work on that.
  • The solution was to paste a URL into the chat pane and that seemed to give most people access to my clip.

Tutorial support:

  • the secret is for there to be lots of detailed preparation by tutor and participants alike. Our tutors Dave Martin and Simon Ball modelled excellent practice!
  • tutors offered practice sessions in advance; these were invaluable.
  • the tutor’s role is important not only for overseeing the technology but for ensuring an orderly process.
  • a calm, unflappable manner is very important, conveying the feeling that whatever goes wrong there will be a fix.


  • I firmly believe that interaction is the key to successful online learning
  • In a conference it is hard to avoid the lecture, with the audience largely remaining passive. This runs contrary to what my trainee teachers are encouraged to do.
  • ..but if I was delivering formal input I would make maximum use of the emoticons (applause etc), hand raising icon and the poll facility.
  • Bart Rientie’s use of the chat pane was a revelation to me. He encouraged us all to respond to his points in the pane and he was able to react to what we wrote immediately and frequently. He gave us choices about his presentation and we were able to indicate our preferences. Why doesn’t everyone do that?


  • I noticed that there was a tendency for some participants to engage with the content on Twitter during presentations.
  • The tweets were always professional and commented on aspects of the conference content.
  • I did the same in the first conference but found that in my efforts to make meaningful tweets I wasn’t concentrating on the presentations properly.
  • So in future I shall stick to the chat pane when I am in the audience, especially having seen its amazingly skilful use by Bart Rienties
  • The chat pane questions were all collected by the tutor and made available to the presenters so that the discussion could be continued online.
  • You may find some of these points interesting:


Please comment on these points! What tips for achieving online interaction do you have?



Pedants are we?

In the good old days there was a word ‘medium’ which had the plural ‘media’. Marshall McLuhan’s ‘The Medium is the Message’ is an example of that usage. We talked about the media, by which we meant TV, newspapers and magazines, music CDs and video. Then along came Facebook and Twitter which are more recent examples of media. So far so good – but now people say ‘ Social media is very influential’. Should we just shrug our shoulders and put it down to the evolution of the English language?

And have criteria gone the same way? In the grammatically correct past you talked about one criterion and two criteria. But, just like media, criteria seems to have become a singular noun e.g. the criteria for being accepted is very challenging.

Should I be worried?

Three Steps to a Collaborative Learning Environment:the discussion continues


My conference input enabled me to explore ways of getting students collaborating and in the process giving each other feedback and comment. Some interesting points were raised by the other participants and I would be pleased to hear what you think about these aspects of collaboration:

Is the resistance to collaborative approaches because of how trainee teachers are trained — or about their own educational experiences as students? Or something else? Is a change of culture needed if teachers regard feedback as a judgement?
I think that if you are not used to working in a way which means you have to comment on other people’s ideas and work, it must take a while to get used to it. What do you think?

Are schools leading the way? One delegate said: “I have been amazed at peer feedback activities. They’re in every lesson”

Should we assess feedback and collaboration as important 21st century learning skills?
I hadn’t thought of that as an argument in their favour – I was coming from the belief that peer feedback and collaboration result in more-effective learning. Do you think it is a kind of basic skill?

Do you give students a ‘crib’ for feedback? I do find that the trainee teachers need to practise giving feedback in the fairly formal setting of the micro-teach, when they feed back on their peers’ sessions. One of the reasons giving this kind of feedback is valuable is that to give it you have to have a reasonably good grasp of the criteria for judging a session; these are complex and have to be learned.

Is Padlet the best tool for (online) collaboration? I think you have to strike a balance between making use of the many new technologies and running the risk of intimidating some learners. I have had some good successes with getting students to work together on Padlet, but as I said there are many more-accomplished practitioners than me around. My main vehicle are discussion forums, online meetings and swapping slides.

How do you get your students working together with each other and with you?