What If Students Used Google Chat Spaces For Collaboration, Expression, And Relationship Building?

Yellowish-orangish sheets of paper lie on a green school board and form a chat bubble with three crumpled papers.

We live in a time when group collaboration takes place in chats. Text message group chats, Slack, and other apps are where so much communication and collaboration occur. It wasn’t always this way.

Those of us in our 40s remember when people regularly used the telephone to communicate with friends and family. Now, actually speaking to a friend on the phone feels very dated. Or as comedian Gary Gulman says, “The phone is a seldom-used app on my phone.”

Gary Gulman seldom uses the phone app on his phone.

For young students, email is their version of the phone. Kids respond to texts, not emails. Then again, plenty of adults don’t respond to emails either:

Research supports the fact that young people do not do well with email. Fast Company’s In the new age of remote work, people under 30 might finally kill email article shared some interesting research findings:

  • “For every age bracket above 30, email was among the top things they considered a collaboration tool. This changes dramatically when we looked at responses from those under 30. For that demographic Google Docs was, by far, the app workers most associated with collaboration.”
  • “We found the under 30 demographic more frequently using Google’s tools than Microsoft’s, with 55% using a GSuite app for collaboration and only 32% using a Microsoft Office app.”
  • For the under-30 group, iMessage was the most popular messaging app beating out Slack and Microsoft Teams chat.

The fact is, real-word collaboration takes place in chats. This is my favorite example:

To release about ten new products a year, Taco Bell’s innovation scientists test roughly seventy; to come up with those seventy, they consider thousands of ideas. Matthews regularly takes groups of employees on food-immersion trips to cities around the world, where they eat for four days. “Then there are text chains, Slack chats, voice memos in the middle of the night about potatoes,” she said. 

Taco Bell’s Innovation Kitchen, the Front Line in the Stunt-Food Wars, By Antonia Hitchens The New Yorker, April 17, 2023

If only there was an app that teachers in Google Workspace districts could use to take advantage of what this research uncovered. Something in Google Workspace that teachers could use to keep students on track and have groups collaborate productively. An app that brings students up-to-date with their Slack-using guardians. That seamlessly integrates with Google Drive. It turns out there is just such an app in Google Workspace.

Meet Google Chat

Google Chat is a Google Workspace for Education Core Service. It is free for districts and built into Google Workspace:

Students and teachers can access Chat in Gmail or in the Apps Launcher (AKA “waffle” or “tic-tac-toe board”) in the upper-right corner of Gmail, Drive, and Classroom.

The green Google Chat icon in the Google Apps launcher.  The icon is circled with an arrow pointing to it.
The Google Chat icon in the Google Apps launcher.

Google Chat features individual chats and group chats called Spaces. Chat with individual users (Called “Chat”) is fine but the real potential for teachers and students is Spaces. Groups of people have threaded conversations in Spaces.

Spaces is available on the Chat home page (chat.google.com) and in Gmail.

Google Chat Spaces in Gmail. Click "Spaces" in the left-side menu to bring up existing Spaces and the "+ New space" button.
Google Chat Spaced in Gmail.

Users can add Google Drive files. Adding emojis and animated GIFs to messages and emoji reactions add touches of fun and personalization.

Each Space has three tabs:

  • Chat – Typical digital conversation as you see in text messaging and chat apps.
  • Files – Compiles every file shared in the Space’s chat.
  • Tasks – Participants can assign tasks to each other. All Tasks appear in the Chat. Please watch this video for more information.

Instructional Uses

Individual chats are good for student questions and teacher reminders but Spaces have the most potential for the classroom. Teachers can make heterogeneous groups for each unit. Give each group a Space and that becomes the place where students and teachers collaborate and give each other reminders and feedback. For example, if a group needs a reminder about a collaborative project in Google Classroom, the teacher can drop the link in the Space.

If the group is working in a collaborative Google Doc, Slides, or Sheets, a member can share the file in the chat. It will stay in the Space’s Files tab. When members click on it, they can edit it in the Space without opening a new tab.

Editing a Google Doc in a Space. The words in the Google Doc read, "I can type in the Doc without leaving the Space!"

The emojis embedded in messages and reactions bring a nice touch of self-expression and levity missing in Google Classroom. Further, this is small-scale digital citizenship practice for students.

The emoji reaction button to a chat message in a Google Space. The user has typed "cat" to search for emojis.
Search for the perfect emoji reaction.

Spaces is a wonderful tool for building relationships in Blended Learning environments. Students can make connections working in Spaces in small groups. Teachers can make whole class Spaces for fun and relationship-building as well. For example, my partner is in a Slack room at work called Feline Fine where colleagues share pictures of their cats. There’s a dog Slack room too. Teachers can create similar Spaces for their students to build connections.

Lock It Down

If you are trying Google Chat Spaces with students, be sure to use Space settings that prevent them from renaming the Space or removing members. The Google Workspace Update Blog has more details. These settings are rolling out in April 2023. If you don’t see these settings after that, contact your Google Workspace Administrator.

Google Chat Spaces is a great way to have students collaborate in a way that meets their needs and gives them practice collaborating in a 21st-century virtual environment. What if students used it?

Does your school need professional development that helps teachers take advantage of Google Chat Spaces and EdTech? Look at some of my offerings and connect with me on Twitter.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash.


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