Online Learning

How to Participate in an Online Class Discussion

Online class discussions normally break down in to one of three categories: message board discussions, online chats and teleconferences. Like most forms of social interaction, each comes with its own rules and etiquette.

Message boards are quite possibly the most confusing of the three, as they deviate the most from normal social interactions. On a message board, you have time to craft a meaningful reply, putting together solid responses and thoughtful arguments. However, online discussion boards for distance learning require a certain degree of literacy not found on other forums across the internet. Text-speak, web slang and other such butcheries of the English language should be avoided at all costs, and care taken to use correct grammar, spelling and punctuation. During online class discussions do not make personal attacks, or even poke fun, at other members of the course or previously-posted messages. Debate, and discuss, but do not dismiss.

Chat rooms allow for a little more slippage of standards, as it is hard to edit a message for typos when firing off messages as quickly as possible. However; make sure you try to get your point across in as few messages as possible—nobody likes having their statements broken up by interjections. And if you’re the one doing the interjecting, make sure that the person speaking has completely finished. Many chat programs come with facilities that let you know when a person is typing, so make sure you use them if available. Again, don’t be tempted to insult or offend. Criticism is fine, but personal attacks do not an online discussion make! Common courtesy is the key here.

The last method of communication is the teleconference. These can be wonderful tools, but they can also be beset by all kinds of difficulties—technical errors are far from unknown, and during long-distance conversations users can suffer from freeze-ups, lag and dropped connections. If these happen be patient, prepare to repeat yourself, and prepare to be repeated to on a regular basis. Use these lulls to make notes, or formulate arguments for later.

In short, the best way to get along in online class discussions is to be polite, courteous, and involved—the same way that you would in everyday life. The Internet grants people an anonymity which many feel free to abuse, and often do on message boards and in chat rooms. Don’t be tempted to take that attitude into the classroom with you.

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Online Learning