Choose Your Own Learning:

anytime communication with chat

Follow along:

By Ian Linkletter

My role in the Faculty of Education is to implement technology to support teaching and learning.

Follow along:

Never start with the technology.

Where did we start?

The Faculty of Education is a leader in online education. In any given term, we offer dozens of online courses, each with their own needs.

We also support fully online programs, such as the Master of Education in Early Childhood Education.

Chat is not new to us

Screenshot: Arts ISIT

BB IM (formerly Wimba Pronto)



BB IM was “extremely helpful for [students] and it made the course run smoother for me.” “If I can answer a quick question… it makes my life and their life so much easier and they feel as if they are in a face to face class.”

  • high cost
  • low usage
  • passionate instructors
  • big opportunity

Picking up where the technology left off.

"The technological landscape has changed significantly since the implementation of BB IM... We may find something more than “just chat” during the course of this project, and that is a very good thing."


- Me kicking off the project

Selection Process

  • Faculty of Education collaborated with instructors on case studies
  • Worked with LT Hub to generate primary and secondary requirements
  • Adapted Tony Bates' SECTIONS framework into an evaluation rubric
  • Environmental scan, test installation of two finalist candidates, user testing
  • Final choice: Mattermost
  • Pilot launched in April 2016


What's Mattermost?

Mattermost is an open source communication tool that facilitates collaboration in a chat-type environment.

What do we think of when we think of "chat"?

Group Activity

Chat is...

  • distracting or focused
  • interruptive or just-in-time
  • real-time or anytime
  • inclusive or intimidating
  • a rising flood or a flowing river
  • casual or intimate
  • meaningful or shallow
  • never-ending or always-there

Not "just chat"

  • Asynchronous and synchronous

  • Persistent history

  • Threaded replies

  • Mobile apps

  • Custom notifications

  • Extensible

  • emoji picker 😎

+ Open Source

+ Hosted at UBC

FIPPA Compliant

Students can direct their own experience

  • Direct Messages

  • Online Status

  • Private Channels

  • Topic-Specific Channels
  • Public and Private
  • Anyone can create
  • Multiple teams are supported
  • Search
  • @ mentions
  • File/image upload
  • Typing status
  • Timestamps
  • Threads

Used effectively, chat can:

  • Provide efficient and timely instructor-student communication option

  • Create opportunities for students to collaborate, provide encouragement, and support each other
  • Build and foster a sense of community

Evaluation Phase Complete

10 courses (2017W1 + W2)

8 Instructor/TA interviews

202 student survey responses


Couldn't have done it without the LT Hub: IT and CTLT

How did students rate their experience with Mattermost?

From Mattermost evaluation report, prepared by Letitia Englund with assistance from myself and Joe Zerdin

From Mattermost evaluation report

good usability

connection with instructors

connection with students

immediacy of interaction

answers to questions

better discussions

Recommendation from Mattermost evaluation report

poor usability

unwelcome extra technology

communication overload

missed instructor connection

missed student connection

too much content

Pilot Evaluation Report Made 7 Recommendations

How could Mattermost be implemented to maximize perceived benefits and mimimize perceived shortcomings? 

Recommendation #1

Set up for smaller groups of students at once

Starting students off in smaller groups may help reduce feelings of being left out or overwhelmed by a large number of posts. It could also help develop community and connection.

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Recommendation #2

Organize content into clear channels and guide shared organization

Chat isn't intuitive to everyone. Some guidance about the purpose of each channel and which ones are most important to check is helpful. A "getting started" guide would also be beneficial.

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Recommendation #3

Set expectations around instructional team availability

Two of the most personalized ways people can engage with Mattermost are through apps and notifications. Everyone has a different preference - students should know whether to expect an answer in 2 minutes, 2 days, or longer. It's entirely up to you to decide and communicate expectations to students.

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Recommendation #4

Integrate or regularly prompt to promote use

The courses with the least activity were the ones where an instructor created the space without committing to using it. Students are sensitive to extra platforms (especially when they require another account) and quickly stop checking if they detect it is not a good use of time.

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Recommendation #5

Set loose guidelines for student participation

Students didn't always know what was expected of them. Did they need to read every post? Was perfect grammar a requirement? Must they reply right away before a conversation changes course? Setting expectations (but being open to surprises) is a good idea.

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Recommendation #6

Emphasize private communication options, especially for fully online

If the purpose of Mattermost is to enable students to contact their instructor privately, showing them how to do this and encouraging them to do it is important.

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Recommendation #7

Explain why Mattermost over other more established chat tools

Students are already using chat. Whether it is Slack or WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, there is no shortage of options. This is an opportunity to have a conversation about how privacy and academic freedom are linked. Do we want to contribute to the feeling that Facebook is too important to delete?

Recommendation from Mattermost Evaluation Report

Ian Linkletter

Learning Technology Specialist

Educational Technology Support

Faculty of Education

Thank you!

Over to you

How could chat be used to support teaching and learning?


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