We often assume our students are “digital natives” and are familiar with the social conventions of online discussion – but this is not necessarily the case; and besides, the educational environment is not the same as the Twittersphere. Even for those who are at home with social media, participating in educational online posting spaces (including tutorials, discussion forums, group wikis, and journals) comes with different expectations. To avoid misunderstanding or worse, it’s best to make sure students are aware of what is generally expected and any rules or guidelines specific to the unit of study – this includes how to communicate with academic staff as well as with fellow students.
General rules of thumb
Like face-to-face communication, the online posting space involves a personal exchange of information, so it is just as important to apply the same everyday courtesies. On the unit website, teaching staff can explicitly encourage students to contribute respectfully by being polite, avoiding bad language, and showing respect for other perspectives and cultural differences.
Characteristics of online posting spaces
Online posting spaces do have some specific characteristics which affect how students contribute and interact with the teaching staff and each other.
Firstly, unlike a face-to-face tutorial session, online participation is usually conducted over an extended time frame – perhaps one or two days, a week, or even the whole semester. This allows students to respond immediately to a topic or to take some extra time to give more considered responses.
Also, when the online contribution is limited to text, students do not have the advantage of non-verbal cues to help them express and interpret meaning. Note, however, that you could encourage students to add multimedia content to help them get their message across. This is especially effective in Canvas, where posting multimedia clips in discussion posts is very straightforward.
Finally, unlike a face-to-face tutorial, online postings are visible long after the contribution has been made. A hastily posted contribution can embarrass students for weeks.
Advise students to be careful about how they convey their message and to be aware that their classmates’ views may change over the period of the discussion. While the discussion can be lively, it’s important to avoid being judgemental and to give others the opportunity to come to their own conclusions.
You might want to start the contributions to your site’s online posting space by reminding students of a few suggested guidelines for online posting. Here are some points that you can copy and paste and adapt for your own purposes in your unit’s online space(s):
Check regularly, post meaningfully, post carefully.
- Commit to checking in regularly to keep up with your peers.
- Read other contributions before adding your own – it’s a good idea to add to the discussion, not rehash previous posts.
- Keep your messages short and to the point.
- Respect your peers’ opinions and be aware of cultural differences.
- Be aware of the impact of your message – not just the content but also the tone. State your position politely, avoid sarcasm, don’t use swearwords, and don’t SHOUT – use capital letters judiciously.
- Before posting check your message carefully. It will stick around for the rest of the semester.
- Follow normal academic integrity practices – acknowledge other people’s ideas and words appropriately.
- 9 Netiquette Guidelines Online Students Need to Know
- 15 essentials netiquette guildlines to share with your students
The author thanks Rebecca Denham for her valuable insights.