Sunday, March 29, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #6 - Chatzy

By this point in time, if you have been a regular reader of this series of blog posts, I've hopefully made a case for backchanneling in the classroom. Over the next few weeks, I'll now explore and explain some of the aspects of the different backchanneling venues out there. Comparing services can be tough, but I've tried to boil it down to a core group of issues that should help you decide on a potential service. Those qualities are as follows:

  • Cost
  • Advertisements
  • Moderator Registration
  • Embed-ability
  • Saving the chat
  • Size of chat history
  • Deletion of content
  • Moderated discussion
  • Getting users into the chat
  • Number of users
  • User registration
  • Passwords
  • Browser needs
  • Privacy/Security
The first backchannel service I ever worked with in the classroom was a service provided by Chatzy. Chatzy is a little unique in that it supports both a free and a paid service. The single biggest difference between the free and paid service is the presence of ads on the page where the students chat. Google Ads do show up at the side of the free chat pages, and while I saw nothing objectionable in my initial tests of the site, I couldn't be confident that would always be the case. For my own peace of mind, I have only used the paid Chatzy service in a classroom application.

Both versions of Chatzy share several things in common. To create a chatroom, the moderator can either create an account with the service or remain anonymous. By creating an account, you can keep a running record of chat rooms you have opened and run; otherwise, you loose the room when the chat is over. Additionally, you must go to their website to participate in the chat. The text of the chats can be saved (to a limit), only the moderator can delete the chat contents, and there are an unlimited number of users per room. Another strong positive is that user registration is not required for participants. The chat content can only be deleted by the moderator is another strong plus as is the fact that the rooms will run within any of your standard Internet browsers, including Safari. Firefox, and IE.

Users are invited in to the chat by the moderator providing a specific URL or perhaps a link off of a webpage, and that webpage's URL is so unique that it would be unlikely for someone to gain access to the room totally by accident. However, as an added layer of protection, each room can be password protected so that only users at the time of the chat will be able to gain access to the discussion. (As a further precaution, I change the room password immediately after I finish an activity so that no one can come back later and add anything inappropriate.)

Downsides of the service? Chatzy free, in addition to the adds, only allows for 10KB of a text to be saved for future reference. Pony up for the paid service, and your entire chat will be available to you up to the limit of what you paid to use. I bought a block of memory 18 months ago that I am still eating away at, so I personally find that the small fee I paid to remove the ads and keep an entire chat ($9.00 at the time) has been entirely worth it. (This is all explained in greater detail at Chatzy's FAQ page)Also on the downside, all comments posted by users are immediately visible to everyone in the room. While I listed it above as a positive, I also have to list user registration as a negative down here. Because the students only have to put in a self-created user name after they arrive to the room, there is the potential for impersonation or inappropriateness. For those reasons, I still only use the paid version of Chatzy with small groups of students I implicitly trust. However, there is always that chance...

Well, that was Chatzy at a glance. Next week, I'll talk about CoverItLive, my other go to choice of services when running a backchannel. Until then...

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