Good communication skills are
essential in your online course. There are many different ways
you'll communicate with your instructor and other students in your class, so we've created this module
to introduce you to common terms you'll need to know
and familiarize you with some concepts
that we hope will lead you to
success in your class. Our job in this module
is to teach you: the vocabulary that may be used to describe communication
in your online class; how communication is different for you
as a student when you're learning online, some of the advantages and disadvantages
of academic online communication; and how to become an effective
communicator in your online course.
Let's begin with a few definitions. First let's talk about the
two types of communication that can be used
in an online class. Asynchronous communication is when you,
your classmates, and your instructor participate in online discussions at different times,
rather than in real time. So if you send your instructor
a question via email, participate in an
online discussion forum, or post to a blog
for your class, you are communicating
asynchronously. Synchronous communication
happens in real time, like having a class discussion
in a traditional setting or talking to a teacher
after class. But you can communicate synchronously
in an online environment too, through the use of tools like: online chat; internet voice or video calling systems
like Skype or Google Hang-outs; or through the use of web-based
video conferencing software like WebEx, Zoom, or Collaborate. The discussion board, also known as
a discussion forum or message board,
is one of the most popular features
in a Course Management System, and it's one place where your asynchronous
classroom discussions can occur. Your instructor may post
the first message (or prompt) and ask students to reply
to their initial post, or they may choose to allow students
to post a topic (or thread) and engage the class in the
online conversation that way. Both methods are equally effective, and discussions in your online courses
are likely to vary, just like your discussions in a
traditional class can differ depending on your instructor
and their personal teaching style.
Think of a blog as a
website journal or diary. Blogs are usually run by an
individual or a small group. Entries are made periodically and typically displayed
in reverse chronological order so the most recent post
will appear first. Most blogs are set up to allow readers to post
comments below each entry, and it is often just as informative
to read the comments and criticisms of fellow readers as it is
to read the initial blog post. Some instructors may require you to post
or review blogs during your online course, and they can be a useful
source of information. Keep in mind, though, that blogs are
typically personal communication platforms, so be sure to double-check facts or
information you might find on a blog with a verified source before
using it in your research. Now that we've
talked a little bit about different kinds of
asynchronous communication, let's talk about some forms
of synchronous communication.
Many course management systems
have a text-based chat feature that will allow you to
exchange messages with others who are online at
the same time as you. Sometimes instructors will use
the chat feature as a way to hold office hours
or a study session. Because chat happens in real time, there
is a sense of immediate gratification. You don't have to wait several hours (or more) for a response like you might have to with email.
Skype is a free software application
that will enable you to make voice and video phone calls
over the Internet. Once you download, register, and
install the software for Skype, you'll probably want to plug in a
headset or a microphone and speakers so that you can hear others and
they can hear you more clearly. If you are using video,
you'll need a web cam, but many newer computers and laptops now include this as part
of their standard equipment.
Video Conferencing software applications
like Zoom, Collaborate, or WebEx are designed to support
larger groups than Skype. They can provide
a virtual experience that closely replicates
an on-campus classroom. Many videoconferencing applications
include useful features like: the ability to share desktops; the ability to share files; online chat windows; virtual white boards; and break-out rooms
for small group work. So your computer can truly become
a window into a live classroom where students and instructors
can interact and collaborate at the same time. Finally, "netiquette", which is the correct
or acceptable way to communicate online.
It's the code of online etiquette
you should abide by, especially when in an academic
or professional setting. This goes for both synchronous
and asynchronous communication. Netiquette includes respectful behavior,
appropriate language, and an acknowledgement of other
people's privacy interests. Remember, your classroom discussions
should be much more formal than the type of discussions
you may have with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. Now that we've covered
some of the basic terminology,
Student Q & A
let's start digging a little deeper
into these topics. Here are some typical questions
that students have about communicating online.
(Student 1) Ok, so you've told us
about the differences between synchronous and asynchronous communication.
But what does this mean for me?
(Narrator) Online class communication
often takes place asynchronously rather than in real time,
giving you a chance to research, write,
and edit your answers, instead of being put "on the spot"
during class. Think of this as an opportunity
for you to really reflect and compose your thoughts carefully
before you make a response. Synchronous sessions are similar to what
you experience in your traditional classes. Discussions can often
be more lively this way, because interactions are immediate since everyone is in the virtual room
at the same time. They can also help an online class
bond more quickly, if used early in the semester.
(Student 2) Will my online
communications be permanent?
(Narrator) Yes--when you communicate
asynchronously online, you create a permanent record
of your words. All of your electronic
communication will be dated, and because of this it can be
easily organized, stored and reviewed (usually for grading purposes)
at a later date. Because your words are enduring,
it is a good idea to compose your electronic communications
carefully before posting.
(Student 3) I generally feel more comfortable
talking online than in person. Is online communication easier than
face-to-face communication in a classroom, too?
(Narrator) It can be. When you communicate through email,
private messages, a discussion board, or a blog,
you're somewhat anonymous. Your instructor and classmates
may not know your age, gender, race, ethnicity,
or other physical characteristics. Some students find that this environment
gives them extra confidence if they are normally shy
or tongue-tied in front of instructors
or other students.
(Student 4) This isn't really a question,
but more of a concern. I'm worried that there will be more
potential for misunderstanding when I'm communicating online
than when I'm communicating face-to-face.
(Narrator) This is a valid concern. Because the teacher and your classmates
cannot see your body language or hear your voice, written words
can sometimes be misinterpreted. Review your written communications
in an online course carefully before posting and try to remove
any language that could be interpreted as offensive
(Student 5) Can I make friends
in an online course?
(Narrator) Absolutely! If you're normally reserved
in front of other people, an online environment can
make it feel like you can express your ideas
more freely. Discussion boards and blogs often
create a real sense of community as you respond to your instructor's
and other students' posts, and they respond to yours. In an online course everyone has a chance
(and is expected) to speak.
(Student 6) I get that email and
discussion boards will be important, but will any of my online course
communication be synchronous? I thought that I would be able to do
all of my online work on my own schedule.
(Narrator) It depends on the course,
but it is likely! Many online instructors
use online chat, Skype, and videoconferencing tools like Zoom,
Collaborate, or WebEx. It will also provide a nice contrast to the asynchronous communication
you'll be doing in your course, because it presents an opportunity
to be more interactive. You'll want to check your syllabus
early on to see if your instructor has scheduled
any synchronous sessions for your online course,
and make note of those dates and times. As we already pointed out,
these will take place in real time, and you don't want to miss class!
(Student 7) Can you give me some tips for writing effectively in an
online educational environment? I don't want to get started
on the wrong foot.
(Narrator) If you can write well, you'll already have an advantage
in an online course: effective writing is essential
to your success. But we do have some more suggestions
that you should find helpful: Always proof your writing for spelling,
grammar, or punctuation errors. Keep your posts concise. Avoid slang and offensive language. Look for opportunities to collaborate
with other students in the course. If you find you've written a negative comment,
try reframing it in a way that is more conducive
for creating discussion. It's ok to disagree with someone,
but being disagreeable or making personal attacks is not.
(Student 8) Ok, so how do I go about writing
a respectful and respectable discussion post?
(Narrator) First, make sure that you read
your instructor's directions and follow them carefully. This is the most basic way of showing
respect for your instructor and the others in the classroom. Second, take your time before you respond when your online instructor posts
topical questions to a discussion board, and he or she is requesting
your informed response.
In this last section we'll review a term
we introduced earlier in the module,
"netiquette", and extend this
to include email etiquette, a particularly important part
of taking almost any class today, whether it's online or face-to-face. Just as a reminder, "netiquette" is the
correct or acceptable code of conduct for communicating online.
Here's your challenge: Based on the tips we've
talked about today, help Brittany compose an email
to her history professor asking when the midterm
will take place. At each step you'll be presented
with two choices of sentences or phrases. Simply select the choice
you think is best.
Before you leave we want to
leave you with one final, feline acronym that
will help you remember three important aspects
of email etiquette: RAR!
R: Respond. Respond to email and private messages
in a timely manner; don't let more than two days elapse before replying to your instructor
or another student.
A: Attach. If you've included an attachment
with your email, mention it in the body of the email.
Then double-check that you actually included the
attachment before you hit "send."
R: Re-read. This goes for emails, as well as any other written text
you submit in your course. One of the biggest advantages
of taking an online class is that you can really
take your time to think about and formulate your responses
before you deliver them.
You're now ready to take on any
online communication challenges
you may encounter in your course.
Congratulations on finishing
the Online Communication Skills module,
and don't forget to RAR!