Chatrooms and forums regularly seem to get a bad press but, if well regulated, they can be a great resource for teachers and pupils.
You might initially think this is going to be all about kids discussing the latest fads, but a growing number of schools and educational websites are using chat constructively. Well-structured and moderated sessions can help children grow in confidence as they learn to voice their opinions concisely and under pressure.
Wikipedia defines a chatroom as "an online forum where people can chat (talk by broadcasting messages to people on the same forum in real time).
Sometimes these venues are moderated either by limiting who is allowed to speak (not common) or by having moderation volunteers patrolling the venue watching for disruptive or otherwise undesirable behaviour".
Chat services come in two types: Internet Relay Chat (IRC); and individual web page chatrooms. IRC is the most popular, but requires you to download special software, such as mIRC. But, be warned, it has its own language and you'll need to know the basic rules before you dive in. Go to www.mirc.co.ukirc.html for guidance.
Individual web page chatrooms require no special software and are easy to use, though not as immediate.
Chat takes the form of a text-based conversation not dissimilar to email, but where the conversation appears on the screen and is in the public domain. With any form of chat facility where kids are involved, the most crucial thing to remember is safety: check out the government guidelines at http: safety.ngfl.gov.ukschoolsdocument.php3?D=d38Also, www.chatdanger.com offers important advice.
Chat facilities can play a role in core curricular activities such as shared story writing. Sutton-on-Sea Primary School discovered that discussions in its "flavour of the month" area (covering anything from families to pets), developed into projects which lasted half a term.
But chatrooms are not just for kids. They represent a huge resource for teachers: imagine being able to share resources with colleagues around the country, being able to ask how to handle a tricky situation in class or simply chewing the fat with others. Whatever it is, chatrooms could make your life a lot easier.
Chatrooms for kids
Sutton-on-Sea Primary (under Learning Zone) www.sutton.lincs.sch.uk
Animal Diaries www.tesan.vuurwerk.nldiaries
Environment Online http:eno.joensuu.fi
Chatrooms for grown ups
Also, check out your subject association for more specific forums