Get around those firewalls with MSN Web Messenger
Graham at work has just tipped me off about MSN Web Messenger, a great tool for internet chat in schools where firewalls have prevented the download of the MSN programme.
"What!" I hear you cry. "A great tool for internet chat?? But therein lies Evil!!"
Well, no. MSN Messenger is one of the best research tools I own. I can chat to my research buddies in New Brunswick, Canada, for free, I can see them through my webcam and show off my tan from summer holidays and, with NetMeeting, I can share my own computer desktop with them.
And in the classroom...
Internet chat has clear disadvantages for the classroom: it's not very safe if your students get propositioned by a stranger and they can easily fall off task if their pals start to ping them. However, it does have obvious uses in the Modern Languages class.
Video conferencing is expensive and horrifically difficult to organise with a partner school who (a) don't have broadband, (b) have worse technical support than you do (yes, it is possible) and (c) having spent three weeks experimenting to make sure it works with the class, the system then breaks down during the very lesson that you had planned it in. Doh!
With MSN, ad hoc meetings with foreign classmates can be organised at the drop of a hat. Log in while other work is being done and if MSN pings, go and answer it.
Live internet chat is also good for pushing those language skills to the limit. Try typing fast, and thinking of how to say what you want to say. It's really tricky. This is conceivably a shortfall but, after saving the discussion to disk, the teacher can then take the whole class through it to learn from any mistakes either correspondent has made (often the ones made by the French/German/Spanish/Italian student on the other end are very reassuring for learners: "they get it wrong, too".
Having said all that, while download of the MSN programme is almost certainly banned, don't forget to see if the website has been firewalled, too. Those pesky Local Authorities - when will they learn?