Instant Messaging: A Medium for
Consistent Communication and
Jackson Community College
Audience & Purpose
The audience for this project is other writing teachers who may
benefit from my firsthand experience with instant messaging as a
conference communication tool. The purpose of this compilation of
experiences is to highlight the potential uses of instant messenger as
a conferencing tool and office hour tool in the English classroom.
While my experiences with instant messaging are limited to college
composition, other teachers might find use from the ideas,
experiences and research presented here.
An example of an instant message.
Taken from O’Connor Educational Need
One pressing educational need that is routine in the college
composition classroom is the lack of time for one-on-one instruction
and communication with students. This problem is particularly
What is plagued by adjunct instructors, who typically wrestle with acquiring
instant basic needs such as office space and available time to meet with
messaging? students. Because adjuncts often teach back-to-back classes and
have either shared office space with other adjuncts or no office
“A fo r m o f space at all, meeting with students outside of class is a difficult
c o mpu t e r c ha t
endeavor as we hunt for a quiet corner somewhere on campus.
t h a t allo ws on e
to ha v e a r ea l
ti me , t yp e d While students can always reach out through the telephone, email
co n v e r sa ti o n and office hours in those cramped corners on campus, increasing the
wi t h on e o r mo r e line of communication between teachers and students that may need
pe o p le whi le
extra support is a positive direction that can be reached by emerging
c o nn e c t e d to th e
in t e rn e t ” technologies.
( O’ C on n or )
Enhancing communication through one-on-one interaction is also
apparent in writing conferences with students. During composition
conferences during class time, students are often rushed through the
revision process with only 10 to 15 minutes to meet with the teacher.
While smaller class sizes would certainly help this issue and should be
rethought, that solution is not always a feasible solution for every
Page 2 Instant Messaging
But if there was a way to extend the back-and-forth live
communication that is generated through face-to-face conferences
teachers may be able to engage more students in the revision process
outside of class and continue to act as the guide on the side in their
educational pursuit of academic writing and revision.
As stated in a recent NCTE article by Albert Rouzie, the need to
rethink chat mediums is necessary to prepare students for a digital
“We in English studies now world as he tackles common stereotypes associated with synchronous
have an interesting chat. “Although the use of email, and to some extent, the Web has
opportunity to shape the become integral to many college composition courses, the use of
literacy conventions synchronous conferencing has lagged behind. Unfortunatly the ‘chat’
students will develop further metaphor suggests a trival, depthless leisure that hardly resembles
in other courses and also in the rich interactions synchronous conferencing can foster” (253).
the work settings they will Rouzie expresses the misconceptions “chat,” such as that generated
enter after college.” through instant messenger, that is often linked with moving such
technologies out of social contexts and into academic contexts.
In addition to the need to rethink such technologies as Rouize points
out, there are other problems arising in the composition conference
that encourages exploration into instant messagner. One such
problem with current writing conferences is the time constraint of
the instructor. Trying to meet one-on-one in productive conferences
with up to 25 students in a class severely pushes the instructor to
hasten appointments often when there is still work to be discussed.
By moving writing conferences and additional individual instruction
away from face-to-face (or addition to) and into instant messenger
an instructor may be able to work one-on-one with multiple students
to achieve similar results. If students are able to effectively
communicate their revision process to the teacher through instant
messenger and are eagerly taking advantage of the technology, it
would be seen as a successful solution to an ongoing problem.
Research & Resources
While the sources below offer only a small portion of research on
Computer mediated communication
through instant messaging can
the subject, they do provide some overarching themes that
potentially be an excellent resource indicate that instant messaging creates an opportunity to teach and
for educators. practice language and rhetorical strategies while discussing writing
—rather than talking about writing like a face-to-face conference
would suggest. The articles also show that instant messenger can
serve to break down communication barriers between teachers and
students by offering a different format to communicate in.
Additionally, because instant messaging was originally designed for
social communication, teachers entering the instant messaging
world may find it easier to relate and connect with students on a
level that is comfortable for students.
With this though comes what some researchers claim to be a
negative attribute and that is the informal presentation of language
that is often associated with instant messaging and texting. A title
of an article in USA Today summarizes this point of view: “Yo, can Page 3
u plz help me write English?” The fear that students will practice
non-standardized English by using instant messaging is mentioned in
several mainstream sources (such as the USA Today article), but
not often as found in the academic articles I have collected. This
leaves me wondering if the media is only emphasizing the negative “Synchronous conversation
connotation associated with such technology tools that are is a major new literacy
traditionally used for social purposes thus stunting the acceptance venue in business, the
of such tools for an academic purpose. This is an area I will academy, and personal life,
continue to look more deeply into but the sources provided below and yet our emerging
are verification that there is a great educational need to consider
understanding of its
instant messaging in the classroom.
implications for written
Farmer, Robert. “Instant Messaging: Collaborative Tool or inchoate”
Educator’s Nightmare.” (2003). --Albert Rouzie
Farmer explores student use of instant messaging along with
current literature to understand how instant messaging is being
used today and how it may be used in the future. As Farmer
states: “This paper reviews some of the good, the bad, and the
ugly about instant messaging and some of the benefits and
drawbacks of instant messaging in educational settings.”
Gerard, Lisa. "The Evolution of the Computers and Writing
Conference, the Second Decade." Computers and Composition 23
This article is interesting because it provides a historical
presentation of the evaluation of computers, writing and
conferences. While it doesn’t necessary focus primarily on instant
messaging, it does provide a critical context for how writing and
the use of computers have evolved and how they will continue to
evolve. Students are becoming more and
more comfortable on the computer.
Horgan, Daniel J. “Five Messages about IM.” CNN.com/SCI-TECH.
2 Nov. 2001. 29 Mar. 2009.
Reported on CNN.com, this article examines instant messaging in
the corporate world. While it is not specific to education, it does
shine incredible light on how many users (young and old, “Instant Messaging is
professional or not) are engaging in instant messaging becoming an important
conversations to facilitate communication. literacy in kid’s lives, and
consequently one that
needs to be recognized by
Page 4 Instant Messaging
Huang, Albert, and David Yen. "Usefulness of Instant Messaging
Among Young Users: Social vs Work Perspective." Human
Systems Management 22 (2006): 63-72.
This article focuses primarily on instant messaging in the
workplace, but does centralize on college-age instant message
users. The study hoped to understand what qualities of text were
valued when using instant messaging for social versus work
Jahnke, Art. “Ready for Instant Messaging?” CIO 16 (2003).
Similar to the CNN.com source by David Horgan, this article also
looks at instant messaging in the corporate world and argues that
users both inside and outside of the workplace will use instant
messaging as professional tools of communication.
Lee, Carmen. "Text-Making Practices Beyond the Classroom
Context: Private Instant Messaging in Hong Kong." Computers and
Composition 24 (2007): 285-301.
While this study focuses on Hong Kong, there are important pieces
of information that can be translated to other environments. The
article focuses on a group of university students who use instant
messaging and concludes that producing texts for instant
messaging is an entirely different process from that of formal
language learning in the classroom. Understanding the difference Instant messaging could become a
between formal and informal language is one area this article new trend in education, particularly in
addresses. the composition classroom.
O’Connor, Amanda. “Instant Messaging: Friend or Foe of Student
Writing?” Quarterly Journal. Mar. 2008.
O’Connor touches upon crucial research in using instant messaging
in academic settings and explores how it could potentially be a
new area to teach students the evolution of the English language.
She also makes a strong connection between instant messaging and
student writing, attempting to understand and analyze what
impact (if any) instant messaging might have on formal writing.
Rouzie, Albert. "Conversation and Carrying On: Play, Conflict,
and Serio-Ludic Discourse in Synchronous Computer
Conferencing." College Composition and Communication 2001st
ser. 53: 251-99.
This source analyzes and inspects discourse in instant messaging
experiences with a focus on understanding why synchronous chat is
often associated with less serious academic discussions. The social
context of instant messaging is also addressed in this article.
Instant Messaging Page 5
Four Places of Education
Teacher: The teacher’s role in using instant messaging is to act as
a guide-on-the-side in the student revision process and students
begin to contemplate, resee and rework their writing. The
teacher needs to be readily available when offering instant
messaging and be able to respond to multiple instant messages at
Learner: The learner’s responsibility in this process is to engage in
articulate and thoughtful communication with the instructor
regarding their writing and revision process. Learner’s must be
active participants in the discussion by asking questions, providing
thoughtful comments and engaging in discussion of their writing.
Subject Matter: The subject matter can range in topic but should
generally be focused around the learner’s writing and revision
process. While instant messaging can be used for a variety of Computer mediated communication
communicative purposes, it is important that student writing be could open up greater doors for
the crux of communication to not only promote rhetorical strategy
but to engage learner’s in an active process of revision.
Setting: The setting is a freshman college Composition classroom
but learners will be expected to use the technology outside of class
Instant Messaging as Solution
In order to address the educational need outlined above, instant
messaging conferences can be integrated into freshman
composition classes as a way to generate additional communication
opportunities. While I was unable to fully implement instant
messaging in my classroom this semester due to timing concerns, I
was able to introduce the technology to my students and test it as
an open office hour tool.
Integrating instant messaging conferences would be a reasonable
approach to enhancing communication because it is a relatively
easy technology to master and can also be done with little to no
cost, as the research presented above suggests. Since I was unable
to fully implement my plan this semester, my goal is to introduce
instant messaging next semester and work with students to
conference on their writing using it as a communication tool.
Page 6 Instant Messaging
While the ideal solution to the educational need of limited and
restricted time for one-on-one communication is to integrate
Vignette instant messaging initially, because I was unable to implement it in
this way as the timing of this project developed at the end of the
As I introduced instant
semester, I used instant messenger as an office hour tool instead.
messaging as an online
Upon initial integration, I hosted open office hours through AOL
office hour tool, one student
instant messenger in order to assess if instant messaging would
sought out help almost
benefit student revision process. Because my students are already
immediately. As final
tech savvy with MySpace, twitter and facebook, they are also well
portfolios were rapidly
versed in instant messaging and by adding this technology to my
approaching, Linda was
other contact information I was able to generate more
communication between students and myself.
worried about revising a
research paper. Our
instant messaging lasted Implementation, Findings & Bumps
approximately ten minutes
as she asked for feedback Along the Way
on how to properly cite
sources using MLA As I set out to explore instant messenger as a conferencing tool for
documentation. She was students in composition, I was only able to implement a small part
struggling with how to cite of the project because of the timing of the semester. Because my
an interview and how
composition classes are in their final week of class, I wasn’t able to
introduce it into the paper
integrate instant messaging in the way I originally intended as a
so that it was presented as
conferencing tool. Instead, I used instant messaging as a tool for
a credible source so our
open office hours where I told my students I would be online during
discussion revolved around
a certain period of time and they were welcome to communicate
how to signal in and signal
questions or seek feedback through instant messenger. I used AOL
out sources effectively.
instant messenger because I’ve noticed that many of my students
Despite the succinctness of
use this themselves.
the conversation, Linda’s
Because the timing was so late in the semester I really didn’t think
questions and willingness to
anyone would take advantage of the additional communication
discuss her writing through
opportunity but I was pleasantly surprised that two out of the fifty
instant messaging gave me
students I introduced it to did use it to ask questions about their
hope that other students (if
final portfolio. The conversations were short, but I was really
presented with the
happy to see that they were reaching out to the new technology
opportunity earlier in the
and it gave me hope that this might be another tool I can use to
semester) would also seek
increase the communication I have with my students about their
out help in this way.
writing especially if it is integrated at the beginning of the course.
The major bumps in the road revolved around the timing and not
really being able to use instant messaging as I really wanted to.
While I do think instant messaging can work as an office hour tool, I
was disappointed that I couldn’t fully see the potential in
conferencing about their writing.
Instant Messaging Page 7
While this was a mini implementation and an experiment to get
myself comfortable with the technology, I plan on integrating
instant messaging next semester in full force by introducing it in
the beginning of the course and using it to conference with
students on their first essay. From there I hope to really begin to
see whether or not this tool makes sense in addition or in
replacement to the face-to-face conference.
Another thing I plan on doing next semester before fully
implementing instant messaging is to survey my students (much
like the survey we just did in this course) that will inquire which
instant messaging tools they use the most whether it is AOL or
Yahoo or something else. I picked AOL for this small
implementation because I was familiar with it and I observed my
students using it a lot but I want to make sure this is the best
Overall, I was pleased with this small step because it is leading to a
greater understanding of how instant messaging might work in the
I used AOL Instant Messenger as tool
context of my classroom. And while only a few students utilized
to facilitate communication with my
the technology, I am confident that it would increase significantly
if presented much earlier in the course. I look forward to really
Image taken from: exploring it deeper next semester and observing the results.
Based on my initial use of instant messaging as conference and
communication tools in the composition classroom, it is clear that
there can be great potential in enhancing communication when
presented to students in a meaningful way. One aspect I learned
significantly from is the timing of such an introduction to a new
technology. Bringing it into my course at the end of the semester
when students were already overwhelmed with other projects
seemed to limit their willingness to participate. I also chose to
make it a voluntarily form of communication and when I implement
it again in upcoming semester, I plan on created scheduled and
required times students must meet with me to discuss their writing
through instant messaging. With these changes, I hope to continue
to see how instant messaging can be a powerful and productive
Page 8 Instant Messaging
Others might learn from these experiences by having a clear plan in
place when introducing a new technology along with an
appropriate timeline. I do think a lot of great observations were
missed because I wasn’t fully able to use instant messaging in the
capacity I originally sought. However, I have learned that some
students will always appreciate an extra form of communication
whether it is required or optional. In the future, I will experiment
with instant messaging again and develop a clear plan of its use
prior to the beginning of the semester so that I may fully engage
students in the many possibilities of instant messaging.