The chat feature is often unfairly maligned in Zoom and Meet. However, chat should definitely not be dismissed as a “distraction”. It is a great tool for hybrid and virtual environments!

Chat is a wonderful way to promote inclusion. It can provide a comfortable participation option for students who would otherwise feel reluctant to join the audio/visual/in-person conversation, including students with anxiety, English language learners, and students with some kinds of disabilities. It can balance the conversation by making it less likely that a few talkative students will dominate every discussion. Chat also facilitates participation by students who are dealing with technological constraints.

Even better, videoconference chat can be leveraged as a way to enhance everyone’s participation. 

This post covers three basic topics relating to chat, as well as technical information.

Using Chat as a “Side Channel” or “Backchannel”

Chat can serve as a simultaneous backchannel to a verbal discussion (much the same way Twitter provides a backchannel for discussion at scholarly conferences). You can facilitate this in the chat, or you can designate the chat as a student-driven space.

  • Q&A. While you’re presenting information to the class, or while student groups are presenting their work, people can post questions to the chat as they think of them for a really good Q&A at the end. You can also use your platform’s Q&A feature, if available (learn more about Meet’s).
  • Ask comprehension questions. You can ask a comprehension question out loud and ask students to post their answers in the chat. This is more spontaneous and open-ended than polling, and you can ask students to read others’ responses.
  • Take a quick poll or a vote. Chat works well for fast yea/nay polls; for more complicated polls, use a polling tool.
  • Encourage students to help each other. Make the chat a space for “what page are we on?” or “does anyone have the link?” so students can answer these kinds of questions for each other rather than interrupting the flow of class.
  • Defuse a tense situation. If you are having a difficult conversation and things get heated, you can ask everyone to take a few deep breaths, then offer a prompt that will take students out of their limbic systems and back into their cerebral cortices. Ask them to post their answer to the chat while you strategize. From here, you can draw on the chat comments to redirect the discussion, start breakout rooms to talk about the comments in small groups, or whatever you think will make the discussion thoughtful and productive again.

Don’t forget – you don’t have to manage the chat on your own! It’s easy to designate a student to manage the chat for you, which allows you to focus and gives students an empowering role in classroom management.

Using Chat to Encourage and Grade Participation

Chat can help wake things up in a low-energy class. Here are some techniques for doing that:

  • Warm up a class ahead of time. You can get your class going even before it officially starts by posting a question to the chat during a “soft start” (i.e. that period between when you open the session and the official start time of the class meeting) and repeating it every so often in the chat as people join the call. It doesn’t matter if they stay “on task” for this during the soft start – the point is simply to get them to bring some good energy into the class instead of having the pre-class time be full of awkward silence.
  • Shake things up during class. Liven up a sleepy class by encouraging everyone to post something to the chat. It can be something related to the class material or something completely random (“What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” or “Which celebrity should just delete their social media accounts because they’re so lame?”) just to shake things up.
  • See who’s really there. You can periodically check to see if students have “ghosted” you (i.e. logged in, turned off their camera and audio, and then stopped paying attention) by posting questions to the chat that students are required to answer immediately. If you are recording your class in Meet or you save the chat in Zoom, you can check the saved transcript later. (If you are not recording your class and are using Meet, try a poll for this purpose; poll data will be emailed to you regardless of whether the class is recorded.)
  • Track participation. If your grading system incentivizes participation, chat can be really helpful in ensuring that your evaluation of students’ participation is objective. You can keep track of who’s participating in the chat much more easily than you can accurately keep track of participation in a fully in-person discussion. Simply save the chat when your class is finished and record in your gradebook who joined in the chat and how often. It’s a good idea to let students know ahead of time – ideally in your syllabus – that you will be doing this.

Polls are also a great way to achieve some of these goals.

Using Chat to Facilitate Classroom Logistics

Especially in a flex-hybrid classroom, where writing on the board can be challenging, chat can be very useful for managing logistics. Here are some ideas:

  • Post prompts for writing exercises or small-group discussions in the chat.
  • After you give verbal instructions for a class activity, post them in the chat (this is helpful because in a flex-hybrid classroom you will have a much harder time seeing those confused/quizzical looks that guide you to the students who need help.)
  • After you give instructions for an in-class activity, ask students who are having trouble to alert you via the chat so that you can answer questions.
  • Post reminders about upcoming assignments in the chat (you can do this at the beginning of class and again at the end).
  • (Re)post reading materials and links to the chat when you’re ready to discuss them
  • Have students share documents with each other via the chat. 

If you are able to anticipate when you will want to use the chat (e.g., for prompts and links), consider creating a document before class that includes everything you think you’ll want to put in the chat. Then you can simply copy-paste during class, rather than taking the time to type.

The simplest way to share documents in the chat is to use a Google Docs link (make sure you’ve set the sharing options so students can see it!). Zoom does have additional options for sharing other file types (including sharing a specific place in a document), which you can access from the “File” icon in the chat window. Zoom permits restricting participants’ file sharing.

Chat Settings

Google Meet

Google Meet chat is very basic. All attendees see all chats. Chat is available to everyone unless the host turns it off in the host controls. If the call is recorded, the chat will be saved as well, but there is no independent option to save the chat if you do not record the call (you can, however, copy and paste it into a document).

While this means some features are missing, the simplicity can be an advantage.


Zoom has more complex settings. If you’re the host of a meeting, you can allow participants to chat with 

  • “No one” (i.e. only you can post things in the chat – no one else can respond)
  • “Host only” (i.e. students can write private messages to you)
  • “Everyone publicly” (i.e. you and the students can all send messages to everyone on the call) “Everyone publicly and privately” (i.e. you and your students can send a message to everyone or to any one person at any time)

During a Zoom session, you can adjust these settings at any time by opening up the chat window and then, next to the word “file” on the lower right, clicking the icon with the three dots to open up a menu with the four options listed above. Choose the option that you think will best facilitate the kind of class discussion you want to have. 

You can save a Zoom chat independently of recording the call.

During a Zoom session, you can save the chat by opening up the chat window and then, next to the word “file” on the lower right, clicking the icon with the three dots. When the menu opens, choose “Save chat”. This will save your chat to your local computer. The default save location is your Documents folder/Zoom/Folder with meeting name, date, and time.

If you want to save the chat for every Zoom session you have with your students without having to think about it, you can set it to save automatically. Here’s how:

  • Open up your Zoom account in a browser window. 
  • From the left navigation menu, choose “Settings”. 
  • Click the “Meeting” tab above the menu of security options.
  • Choose “In Meeting (Basic)”.
  • Adjust the little slider next to “Auto-Saving Chats” so that it’s blue (on).

Depending on the content covered during your classes, you may want to prevent your students from saving the chat. If you want to turn this feature off, you must disable it in your account settings. Here’s how:

  • Open up your Zoom account in a browser window. 
  • From the left navigation menu, choose “Settings”. 
  • Click the “Meeting” tab above the menu of security options.
  • Choose “In Meeting (Basic)”.
  • Below the “Chat” slider, check the box next to “Prevent participants from saving chat”.

Disabling students’ ability to save the chat will also disable your own ability to save it or auto-save it. It will even make it impossible for you to select, copy, and paste it manually from the chat window. However, even if you and your students are prevented from saving the chat as text, it can still be saved by taking a screenshot. 

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