IM and Chat

Last Updated: June 10th, 2019

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An instant message (IM) is a form of text-based real-time communication between two or more people over a network. Instant messaging boosts communication because it happens in real-time and can be less intrusive than a phone call. An added benefit is that users may receive IMs with their mobile devices, depending on the program being used.

A chat is a form of synchronous conferencing similar to instant messaging but which allows multiple users to be included and participate in the conversation. Most programs which allow instant messaging also include group chat capability.

Many social networking sites also have IM and chat capabilities.

Some popular instant messaging and chat programs include:

  • AIM: A free instant messaging and chat program from AOL. Recent new feature includes the ability to video chat
  • Ebuddy: An aggregator application that connects multiple chat applications and programs into one location.
  • Google Hangouts: Have group conversations including video and voice options.
  • Microsoft Lync: The University of Florida sponsored chat program.
  • Skype: In addition to calls, Skype offers instant messaging and file sharing.
  • Trillian: A free instant messaging shell program from Cerulean Studios that allows users to message with AIM, MSN, ICQ, Yahoo, and IRC users simultaneously in the same interface.
  • Yahoo!: Free instant messaging and chat program from the email client Yahoo.

Application to All Courses

Educational Benefits

  • Communication method is familiar to most students.
  • Most chat programs are free to download and use.
  • Chat aggregators, such as Trillian, allow for the feed of several different chat programs to aggregate into one thus allowing users to follow several accounts at once.
  • Disseminate information quickly to students.
  • Students who may not participate in face to face discussions may feel less intimidated to participate via IM or chat rooms.

Teaching Methods

  • Hold virtual IM office hours.
  • Hold virtual IM study or Q&A sessions to address student questions or concerns.
  • Chat with a student who cannot attend face-to-face office hours.
  • Send text message updates to students on upcoming deadlines, changes to the course schedule, special news or events, and session cancellations.
  • Allow students to chat with each other while working on presentations or assignments.
  • Divide students into groups based on their needs for targeted help sessions with teaching assistants via chat.
  • Provide a teaching assistant monitored chat for students to use during real-time lecture, allowing content discussion and questions during the lecture.
  • Divide students in large courses into groups for work on a particular task such as a discussion (anonymous or not).
  • Invite guest speakers or lecturers to participate through a virtual classroom environment and allow students to post questions using the chat feature.

Getting Started

  • Choose an IM or Chat program based on the features you need for your personal use or for use as a communication method for a course. For example, a chat aggregator such as Trillian or Ebuddy will allow the user to compile several different chat programs into one location. This allows users from multiple different chat programs to still contact one another.
  • Sign up for an account with the IM or chat program. University of Florida students, staff, and faculty can also access the chat features in their LMS platforms as well as Microsoft Lync.
  • In many instances all participants will be required to create an account with the chat program.
  • Login to the IM and chat program and use the “Contacts” feature to add students, colleagues, or other participants to your list of contacts.
  • Use the IM feature to converse with one participant. Use the chat room feature to invite multiple participants into a conversation.

Additional Resources

Articles – Journal and Academic

Articles – Blogs, Websites, Wikis

For information on similar tools in the CITT Tools & Techniques Toolbox visit:

Accessibility Statement

Keep accessibility in mind as you develop course content and build assignments and assessments. Many online tools are not fully accessible, so it’s important to think about how you will make the assignment accessible if requested. The Disability Resource Center and the UF Accessibility page will guide you in making appropriate accommodations. You can also find out more about accessibility at our toolbox page on Accessibility in the Online Classroom.

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