Online communication includes both technological and pedagogical issues. This section provides information about various communication tools and their pros and cons. Be sure to review the questions raised under the "Communication guidelines" section in order to develop your own plan for how students in your course will interact. You will find examples and suggestions to help incorporate these tools into your course experience.
Students, especially adults, learn better by sharing their experiences with others in order to apply the content. They also learn when they teach each other. Consider ways to encourage student interaction and sharing of information with each other.
During an in-person class you have options which have always been available to you, e.g. real-time discussions, hand-raising, body language, social presence, and electronic response tools.
The online component, however, offers different options. A course management system contains communication tools which include message boards, live chat, whiteboards and email. In addition, there are standalone tools such as instant message, web conferencing, blogs, wikis and forums. Students can communicate asynchronously with tools like email and discussion forums, or synchronously with instant messaging or web conferencing tools like Adobe Connect. There is no one answer to the communication question, but with the myriad of options available, at least one solution exists which should fit your particular situation and communication goals.
It is a myth that online courses are less social than in-person courses. Although the channels and styles of communication are different, some students get to know their online classmates and instructor better than their in-person counterparts. As in the classroom, it is up to the professor to structure online communication opportunities and expectations to enhance learning.
Any form of online communication is a subset of the in-person experience. You no longer have visual clues such as body language, facial expressions, tone of voice to cue your responses. People have adopted various text messaging conventions to express emotions, e.g., emoticons/smilies ;-), all capitals (YELLING). People form opinions of you from your writing style. Consider how you wish to be perceived and write accordingly.
Be sure to let your students know how communications will be handled in your course. Consider questions such as:
- How will you contact students?
- How and when may students contact you?
- Can they call you? When and what number?
- What address should students used to email you?
- Will you hold office hours? By phone? Using chat? Email only?
- What is the expected timeframe for you to respond?
Be sure to set expectations for how group communications will be handled in your course. Consider questions such as:
- Can students send group emails to the class?
- Is interaction required or optional?
- How many times each week they must post original comments?
- How many times they must post responses to others' comments?
- What the quality of the comments must be?
- How the comments will be evaluated?
- What grade they can expect for various levels of performance?
- Are students aware of copyright issues and online etiquette when posting to discussion forums?
When people communicate in-person they use tone of voice, hand gestures and body language in addition to their words. When communicating online, you cannot rely on those additional methods. There are generally accepted methods of behavior for online communication. Although not evaluated, expectations of student conduct online should be clearly stated:
- rules of conduct for participating in the discussion board
- rules of conduct for email content
- speaking style requirements, (i.e. use of correct English required as opposed to net acronyms)
- spelling and grammar expectations, if any
It's important to outline your online communication guidelines to students. Determine what behaviors are or are not acceptable in your online discussions. Spell these out to your students in the syllabus or in a class orientation section. To minimize unacceptable behavior, it is a good practice to have students read and acknowledge that they understand the expectations.
Here's an online netiquette quiz: