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What's new in free, adaptable chat tools

Demonstration by Vance Stevens

TESOL Arabia Conference, Higher Colleges of Technology, Dubai Women's College
March 14th - 16th, 2001

Chat software focused on in this demonstration

A full description of this and similar software is at

The following clients are the ones we are currently using with Writing for Webheads <>. First we locate each other online using ICQ and then we use:

Homestead for text chat:

Excite voice chat:

Tapped In, a MOO-like environment:

For those who can't make the live chat: leave your voice message at


The past year has seen great strides in text and voice-activated synchronous communications tools, with major players like Hear Me Voice Creator and Firetalk no longer supported. What can take the place of Hear Me in the way of easily used and implemented voice chat to promote listening skills with native speakers? What compelling text chat tools are available to promote writing skills? Why should educators in the UAE be interested in chat, and what's available to them if they are?

Why use chat?

Two presentations (Mynard, Campbell) at the TESOL Arabia Abu Dhabi branch conference "Connecting the Classroom and the Community" at the Al Ittihad Model School, Abu Dhabi, February 15, 2001, both by practitioners working in the UAE context, cited such benefits as

Chat activities can include


The presenter's experience with chat

The presenter has been using synchronous chat clients with students and professional colleagues since 1998, particularly in an online language learning community called Writing for Webheads <>.

In that time, some useful chat clients have come and gone :-(PowWow and Firetalk, for example), while new ones are frequently developed and available for language learning. In the demonstration, the presenter will show participants what latest developments he is aware of, and promote discussion of chat clients that participants have used and liked.

There are several factors governing whether a free chat tool is viable in an educational setting or not.

  1. How easy is it for average computer-users to download it, set it up, and use it?
  2. How reliable is it?
  3. How easily can it be adapted to the teacher's web-based projects?
  4. Whether chats can be recorded
  5. What kinds of controls are in place regarding chat content?
  6. What other compelling advantages does it have over other chat clients?

The chart examines chat clients with both voice and text chat features used by the presenter and his students and colleagues in some cases since 1998.

Genre Client Setup Ease of use Reliability Adaptable Transcripting Multiple users Control Advantages Disadvantages
Text chat Homestead must create homestead homepage, 20 min users go to url with java browser excellent Intuitive GUI interface cut-and-paste no limit? you set up dedicated chatroom with some control over who has url Homepage creation easy with Page Builder easy to miss people in chat, transcripts lost when buffer fills
YahooGroups (was Egroups) simply set up egroup, 15 min users enroll and get passwords to site good suitable to class groups none no limit? but gets slow membership in group can be exclusive many features associated with egroups no record of chats; temperamental client
ICQ download and install intuitive excellent notifies you when buddies online save as file many: not sure of limit little control over buddy lists, but some security features widely used with best features available talk facility not free
  Yahoo Messenger download and install very intuitive server logoff because 'you've logged on another machine' notifies you when buddies online cut-and-paste not sure you have little control over buddy lists popular, has voice component, works well voice only one on one
Voice chat Excite easy setup through website fairly straightforward access so far so good implements voice contact voice with rudimentary text contact several at least you set up dedicated chatroom excellent voice quality no group text chat
TelcoPoint one-time setup through website fairly straightforward access poor implements voice contact voice with rudimentary text contact not sure you control url name; some control over who has it Hear Me reputation, might improve dysfunctional support, poor sound quality
Voice discussion Wimba must get code and install to own website fairly intuitive access wimba site sometimes down threaded discussion SUPER voice archive for class use no limit you control url name; some control over who has it voice archive excellent for listening and speaking practice threaded discussions hard to organize
MOO Tapped In enroll, optionally set up office easy guest access excellent Pepperdine U. holds classes here voice recorder emails you transcript no limit safe, monitored environment cool features include ability to launch urls on remote browsers MOOs, appeal more to some than others
Avatar-based Palace must setup on server or use existing Palace download and install Palace browser varies many features to enhance online experience cut-and-paste no limit possible to have intrusions friendly environment, create own avatars most Palace services no longer supported
ActiveWorlds Just specify coordinates, or create own world easy download and install browser excellent can create 3-D classpace here not sure no limit not much control over who is where coolest interface ever; users can even fly big graphics load cuts out some users

Once an appropriate client is found, adaptation and integration of the facility to the teacher's teaching situation or web site is critical, and the presenter will show how this is easily done with a number of these clients.


Text and voice-activated synchronous communication tools are changing all the time. At this demonstration you can find out what's new, what works best, and what's most easily adaptable to your purposes in the way of text and voice-based chat clients for promotion of your students' speaking and writing skills.


Vance Stevens is computer-assisted language learning consultant and coordinator at the MLI and has developed, published, and researched in CALL since the 1980's. He has conducted a synchronous online class since 1998. Email:

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Last updated: March 13, 2001 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0