Communicating Online

Don't be shy! If you have questions or problems, make sure to speak up and let the instructor know about it at the earliest opportunity. Just like you would raise your hand in class to ask for a question or clarification, you can send an email to your instructor to get help (or your instructor may have set up some other procedures for getting help, such as a dedicated area of the discussion board, etc.). If you have problems or questions, it is your responsibility to communicate that with the instructor as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the less chance that you will get the help you need in time to solve your problem. So: speak up!

Effective online email communication. Here are some basic tips to keep in mind for communicating with your teacher and the other students in your online class:

  • Make sure you spellcheck your written communication and proofread it for clarity (reading out loud is a great way to proofread and also to make sure what you are saying "sounds right").
  • Even though you are working in a digital environment, you are communicating with real people; please respect their attitudes and feelings just as you would in person.
  • Choose your language appropriately. Your online course is like a virtual classroom; make sure your comments online are up to the same standards you would apply in a regular classroom setting.
  • Read the instructions for each assignment carefully so that you can focus on the appropriate questions and tasks.

Effective discussion. Most online courses rely heavily on Discussion Forums where students can exchange information and share ideas. Here are some important points to keep in mind when you are using Discussion Forums:

  • Read what other students have said carefully before posting your reply. You need to make sure you understand where the current discussion is headed before you make your contribution.
  • A discussion is not an argument; the point is not to prove that you are right and that someone else is wrong. Instead, the goal is to share information and help all the students in the class learn more about the subject under discussion.
  • Use short and concise sentences, and get to your point quickly. If your post is on the long side, you should break it up into separate paragraphs to make it easier for others to read online, with line breaks in-between the paragraphs.
  • Learn how to use the features of the discussion forum to enhance your writing: can you add links to your posts? images? lists? blockquotes? If these features are available, use them to make your post more readable for others.

Communication etiquette. Check out some important tips for Communication Etiquette in email and discussion forums elsewhere in this section.

Using smiley's for clarity. Smiley's (also known as emoticons) are actually a very important part of online communication! There are many nuances that you might convey by means of tone of voice when speaking in person, and it can be confusing when that tone disappears in writing. If you are the kind of person who smiles when you interact with other people (and most folks are like that!), then use smiley's in your discussion board posts. Depending on the discussion board system which your instructor has chosen for the class, you may be able to insert small smiley icons in your posts. If not, you can learn how to use some of the smiley's that are made with punctuation, as in this Emoticon webpage at Wikipedia.

Learn the names of your fellow students. If you can take some time to learn the names of your fellow students in the class (or at least some of them!), you will probably find yourself enjoying the class more. Luckily, this is easier to do online than it is in the classroom, since the written interactions you have with people online allows you to pause and take a look at their name and associate the name with their interests and ideas. A great way to get familiar with the names of the other students is to make a point of using the person's name whenever you reply to them on the discussion board. If you can start your reply to someone with "Hi Joshua" or "Hey Chelsea" or whatever their name happens to be, you will feel more like you are writing back to somebody - instead of writing inside some empty room.

Keep an eye on word count. Based on the specific assignment, your instructor may have provided guidelines for either the minimum or maximum length of your written communication. Pay attention to these guidelines from your instructor! If the idea is to communicate something short and to the point, you don't want to end up with a big fat essay - and vice versa!

Communicate your feedback! People have been teaching and learning in classrooms for centuries, but teaching and learning online using the Internet is something pretty new to everybody! It will be very helpful for your instructor if you can provide feedback about the class, what aspects of the class are working well for you, and what things are not working so well. Your instructor may provide a space for feedback about the class, such as a "Suggestion Box" that is part of the class discussion board. Take advantage of any opportunity and share your feedback with the instructor. This will be a big help in improving the online courses to make them an even better experience for students in the future.

This document was modified from materials created by the University of Oklahoma.