Sunday, October 11, 2015

Easy Collaboration Tool - Using Neat Chat in Education

(Update: September 22, 2018
While the website is no longer available, I wanted to leave this post here due to the backstory that I shared.)

Fifteen years ago, I was a classroom teacher teaching Physical Science and Chemistry. I was using America Online (AOL) as my Internet Service Provider, and I was passionate about using technology in the classroom with my students. One of the features in AOL was that chat rooms could be created, and people with AOL could join if they knew the name of the chat room. For my students, I would create a chat room (called something like “hogansciencestudentsrock”) and tell my students that I would be hosting an online study session that night at a certain time and that if they had AOL they could join in. For the students who didn’t have AOL, I would suggest that they get together at the home of a friend or relative that had AOL so that they could participate. Not ideal, but the only way I knew how at the time to get everyone in the same chat room. (I did talk with our tech director who eventually found an online chat room that we could use without having to use AOL… but I digress.)

The online study session was set up like a game show. I would ask a question, then the students could respond with what they thought was the correct answer. After a while and the student answers had slowed to few to none,  I would give the correct answer. Inevitably, this would cause more questions and explanations.  It seemed as though the students were more apt to pay close attention when the words were in front of them on the screen.

What I loved about the chat room is that students could use nicknames. I told the students that if they were using a nickname then they had to send me a private message and let me know who they were or I would block them from the room. I also reminded them of etiquette and to be “school appropriate” while in the chat. 

I clearly remember a quiet student who was in the chat room and getting a lot of the answers correct and quickly, and someone asked who that person was “because they were on fire.” It proved to be a real confidence boost for that student, who began to open up and contribute to class conversations.

Today, it seems archaic to think that it would be difficult to communicate with students online. There are so many ways to connect with them outside of school hours and asynchronously. I just learned of one today that I wanted to share with you that reminded me of my AOL chat room days. 

The website is called Neat Chat. It creates an ad-free chat room / back channel easily, and since it was new to me I wanted to share some of its features with you.

Below is a labeled image to explain the screen and features:

1 - The first tab is for the chat room. If you hold a private conversation with a participant, another tab with that person's screen name will be created.

2 - This is where the chat messages will appear. The words above give you a link to becoming the room administrator, a link that you can use to invite others to join the chat room, and also a link to embed the chat room on a webpage.

3 - The buttons below are features you can use. The first one is for emoticons, the next one is for administrator settings (when you create the room, click this key, create a password then name the chat room). The next button allows you to print the chat, the next button that looks like a speaker allows you to mute the sounds, the next button is to contact support, and the next button gives you ways to share the chat room. 

4 - This is where you type your messages for the chat room.

5 - On the right-hand column, you will find the participants listed. When you hover over a name, you get the options to chat privately, block, or ban. (When participants have private chats with each other, the administrator can see the chats. Remember to let your participants know this!)

Creating a chat room is easy.
Just go to the website, enter your user name, an click on "Start Group." 

Neat Chat takes me down memory lane, and it reminds me that technology often gives the quiet students a voice.  I'd love to find out your ideas for how it could be used by educators.


  1. I totally agree - the quiet students have so much to say, and this is a great way to let their voice be heard! Question: Have you used Today's Meet? If so, do you prefer Neat Chat to that one? Just curious! :-)

    1. Hi, Michelle. I have used Today's Meet, and I think both are great. The one thing I like about NeatChat is the ability send a private message and that the chat administrator can see the private chats between participants. I didn't see that in Today's Meet. I use Today's Meet as more of a back channel during meetings or training sessions.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!