Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard
In distance learning courses students need to participate in online discussions about the topics in the courses. Although you will usually be writing your ideas on a discussion board, you need to think of it as talking to the instructor and the other students in the class. That means that you must show the same courtesy to them as you would in a face to face class. The skills you develop in these online discussions are the same ones you will use when communicating online with others on your job now or in the future. Practice these skills and sharpen them now while they are simultaneously helping you to study and learn the course work. The following are a few of my thoughts on how to make the most of online discussions.
1. Follow the rules of netiquette posted by your instructor or school. You have probably heard many of these rules previously because they are really important. One of them is not using all capital letters because it is equivalent to shouting when offline. You have to be careful of using humor because it does not always come across as something funny in writing where people cannot see your gestures or facial expressions. As previously mentioned, treat your classmates and instructor with respect. Remember, you and everyone else is using a computer but you are not talking to a computer; you are talking to people. Use respectful appropriate language and don’t write anything that you don’t want some else to see – even in e-mails.
2. Apply what you learn and then share it with your classmates in the discussions. It will help you to remember it and others can gain from your experience.
3. Ask questions – both questions that you need the answer to and questions that will move a discussion forward. Of course you should answer other’s questions to be helpful and to help move the discussions along.
4. Use subject titles that correspond to what you are writing about. It helps others to find the posts on a subject. A subject such as “Help!” is not very helpful to other students. A subject such as “How do I download PDF’s?” will get you the help more quickly from someone who knows how to do it.
5. Respect everyone’s time. Ask questions if you have a problem but make sure you have read the syllabus and any other pertinent information on the course site first in case the question has been answered there. Keep your messages relatively short – not as in “I agree.” But don’t write pages of facts and arguments. Each post should address only one point. Long posts are difficult to read online and there are often many posts to be read.
6. Read all comments written about another post before you respond. Also try to respond to different students rather than only one or two that you relate to better. It will help other students not to feel left out and perhaps to improve over time.
7. Use correct grammar and spelling. Write in paragraphs. All your writing should be at a college level so don’t use short forms, acronyms, and bullet points unless the instructor has stated that it is acceptable.
As a student you have a responsibility to yourself and to the other class members to use good netiquette and to help promote learning in the course. Your input along with your classmates’ input will help all of you to make sense of the material and contribute to everyone’s successful education.