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?



One comment

  1. Despite my intention to keep an eye on the chat pane during my presentation, I found I just couldn’t do this at the same time as presenting. I did go back immediately afterwards though and read it.

    I enjoy engaging with Twitter backchannels, both for online and face-to-face conferences. I’ve used these before and get a lot out of the interactions that happen. One of the most useful ones, outside of a professional context, was the day the M62 was closed because of an accident and I was stuck in it. As well as breaking the boredom for 2 hours, tweets from us poor trapped motorists helped others to avoid the area and find alternative routes.

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