Google Drive and Google Apps provide a plethora of collaborative tools for teachers to use with students, but one common questions comes up as soon as students become proficient with these tools: can we turn off the chat feature?
First of all, students have been passing notes in class since the beginning of time, but now we have enabled an online tool that allows them to virtually pass notes all the time, to students on the other side of the classroom, perhaps on the other side of the school. In fact, the Google Docs chat feature allows people on the other side of the world to "pass notes" online.
The issue really isn't whether or not this tool is appropriate for an educational environment, but whether or not we are actively teaching our students how to use it appropriately. If we turn off the chat feature, we are turning off this opportunity. We are turning off the opportunity for our students to learn proper digital citizenship and etiquette - behaviors they MUST know to enter today's workforce.
(Image from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PassingNotesInClass)
My suggestion is rather than "shut it down", let's turn it around!
Here is one simple lesson idea for teaching our students how to use the Google Docs chat feature appropriately to support writing, project based learning, and online collaboration.
Google Chat Writing Warmup
1. Put students into a small group of 3-5 and allow them to chose one student as a leader.
2. Have the "leader" create a Google document and share it with the rest of the members.
3. Provide each group with a specific question to research and discuss.
Example: "High sugar content sodas are bad for your health and should be outlawed in schools."
4. Show students how to share their ideas using the chat window in the shared document.
5. Share guidelines with students for staying on task, using appropriate language, and respecting teammates' ideas and opinions.
After this activity is complete have the group members grade each other on the guidelines. Share examples of students using chat appropriately with the class and invite them to use the chat feature in the future when doing collaborative projects or research.
It's also a good idea to remind students that their chats are archived in Google Drive and that any inappropriate use of the tool will result in loss of privileges.
For some great ideas on assigning specific projects that use the Chat feature, check out this article at EdTechTeacher.org. You can also find some more ideas for using Google Drive (CSD Docs) in the classroom from the presentation 32 Ways to Use Google Apps in Classrooms and Schools by Julia Stiglitz of the Google Apps for Educators Team.
For more information on using the Google Chat feature in Google Drive, check out the Google Drive Help Website.