Chattering Classes 2

Chattering Classes 2

Online real-time written conversations in English. A facet of digital literacy.

As explained in the previous post on this subject, we have been using online chats with our third-year undergraduates as a means of replacing classroom conversation workshops during lockdown.

In the last week of online chatting, I took the opportunity of informally asking students a few questions about the activity (thanks Sophie):

What have you enjoyed about these chat sessions?

Unsurprisingly, all the students who continued to turn up for the chat sessions said that they enjoyed them, appreciating the opportunity to talk with their different English teachers about different subjects as well as the current situation. ‘Very nice’ said two students, displaying their perfect command of idiomatic English language. (Nobody used my favourite adjective ‘pleasant’ though ☹).  Several students mentioned the fact that the English chat sessions had really helped them to stay in contact with the university during lockdown and not ‘abandon’ their studies. One student explained that whilst teachers in their specialist subjects organised online video conferences, what she particularly appreciated about the English chat sessions was that they took place regularly in ‘normal time’ (= at the same time as their regular classroom session)  and so kept her from ‘procrastinating’, helping her to organise her day. A different student explained how she signed up for morning sessions to get her out of bed in the morning and warmed up for her other studies.

The idea of ‘social contact’ was mentioned several times and the fact that it was ‘good to talk to each other’ and combat loneliness and boredom.

When asked about disadvantages, students underlined lack of typing skills and the speed of exchanges (NB previous post on the question of rhythm). However, some students did mention the fact that they felt ‘more comfortable’, ‘less shy’ and ‘less stressful’ with online chatting as opposed to face-to-face chatting. And others felt that it was a useful tool for continuing to practise English writing skills in a module that concentrates on oral English. 

Clearly no student wanted to replace our classroom conversation workshops by online chat sessions and they were perfectly well aware of the different nature of the two activities and attendant skills. However, students did express enthusiasm for the idea of having the opportunity to practise both online and face-to-face chatting. For future course development it would be interesting to think about if/how online chatting could be introduced as a complementary activity. In the context of French universities, where online learning is increasingly being looked to as a way of reducing costs, this last point merits repetition. I am talking about online chatting as a complementary activity here in a blended-learning environment and NOT a replacement activity for classroom conversation workshops.

Using (and having students think about how they use) the online chat tool would also enable us to continue developing our students’ transferable digital skills, something that as language teachers, we must increasingly think about. As Chun, Kern and Smith point out, our students’ future personal and professional use of their foreign language will predominantly be in online environments (67) and part of our job should be preparing them for this. Or at least entertaining the idea, even if we ourselves often sorely lack digital skills. Just as notions concerning literacy reflect changes within society and technology, our teaching should reflect these changes.

‘In the context of foreign language pedagogy’, Chu, Kern and Smith ‘suggest the compatibility of literacy-based approaches… with uses of technology, defining literacy as the ability to deal with technologized forms of language use’ (71).

From lockdown to literacy, or how to chit chat during (and after?) confinement.

Chun, D., Kern, R. & Smith, B. (2016). Technology in Language Use, Language Teaching, and Language Learning. The Modern Language Journal, 100 (1), 64-80. Retrieved from

Photo of last week’s rain-secateured roses.

2 Replies to “Chattering Classes 2”

  1. Hello Alison,
    Thanks for this sharing, it’s very interesting. And I agree with the propositions you make about the good use and the objectives of this activity.
    Have a nice summer and see you soon,

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