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Text chat

Text chats, at their best, are egalitarian, can feel friendlier and more social than a Canvas discussion board, and provide perhaps the best way for students to talk amongst themselves. 

Zoom Chat

Many instructors already use the Zoom chat, and it's an essential tool for gently asking questions or comments without disrupting the lecture.

The chat allows students to support one another’s points, ask questions, or provide commentary in real time during class discussions. Be clear about how students should use the chat, but also provide room for students to develop their own classroom culture. Some tips:

  • Encourage students to use the chat to support a peer’s question or response, such as by writing “+1 Maria” to indicate agreement 
  • After discussion time in Breakout Rooms, have students write a summary of their discussion or key questions in the chat. Ask students to assign a reporter at the start of discussion 
  • Throughout discussion, encourage students to write short comments or questions in the chat 

Limitations of Zoom chat:

  • You can't copy from chat (this is for HIPAA compliance)
  • Zoom chats are only available during synchronous sessions and disappear (unless the whole session was recorded). Chats are not available to the class after the session (chats can be accessed by the host from recorded meetings only)
  • File-sharing has been turned off, to prevent Zoombombing

Canvas Chat

For a low-tech method that you can use outside of Zoom, perhaps for office hours, try the Canvas Chat feature. It's not very complicated, but you can have it turned on in your class to use as an option for virtual office hours or for a quick full-class brainstorm. Note that there is no direct messaging in Canvas chats. Everyone in the course can access the Canvas chat history and students cannot delete chat comments.


Slack is the most flexible way to use chat to connect with students, have more discussions, or monitor group work. It can be used both for synchronous and asynchronous work. Some instructors even use Slack as their primary teaching space. 

Once Slack is set up, you can use it to:

  • Share files
  • Direct message students
  • Create and monitor student group discussions
Slack workspace screenshot


See the full tech documentation for how to set up and use Stanford Slack for your class

Part of this article adapted with permission from Stanford GSE's Teaching Resources.