Learners have been communicating electronically for ages by the time they reach you. But they probably use SMS and other media with friends and use language very loosely and text speak rather liberally. So it’s probably a good idea to lay down some guidelines around how you expect them to communicate if you are using discussion forums in your courses.
Here are 11 tips to give your learners:
1 Be Polite
People will have different opinions; that’s the whole point of a discussion. But no matter how much you disagree with another learner you need to show respect and be polite. Online forums don’t have the benefit of seeing facial expression so misunderstandings can occur more easily. Bear this in mind and ask people to clarify what they said rather than jumping in with negative replies.
2 No Text Language
Discussion forums are not the place for text speak. These abbreviations are too open to misinterpretation, and in a discussion forum you are encouraged to write your ideas out in full not in short hand.
3 Recognise Multiculturalism
It is likely that there will be learners from different cultures and geographical locations on your course. This is one of the joys of learning online; you will get to experience a richer background of experiences, expectations, cultures and ethnicities. Even though you will all be using the same language to communicate be aware that for some this will be a second or third language. Even speakers fluent in the language use it in slightly different ways depending on their location. “Acting up” in the UK, for example, means standing in for your boss, but in New Zealand this means misbehaving, yet both these countries speak English. Enjoy the experience offered to broaden your outlook; there is no place for ageism, sexism, racism, and other intolerances.
4 Grammar and Spelling Matter
You are in an academic environment you need to express yourself fully. This means using correct English (or what ever language the forum is in) including grammar and spelling. Be professional in the way you write; leave slang and colloquialisms for elsewhere.
5 Justify Your Argument
Don’t just give your opinion and hit submit. You need to justify what you say. Your opinion may be great but you need to backup what you say by citing your sources.
6 Don’t Be Invisible – Contribute
You may feel it’s OK to just read what others say and never post in a forum. But to get the most out of any discussion you need to fully take part. This means reading what everyone else has to say, and contribute something new and meaningful to the discussion. No one would jump in to a face-to-face discussion by just blurting out what they want to say; usually people progress the discussion by agreeing and furthering a point or providing a counter argument.
7 Stay on Topic
Your instructor will have decided on the topic for discussion for a reason. If you are not sure why the topic is being discussed go ahead and ask. Don’t however ignore the topic and drift off into other subjects. It’s discourteous to other learners and the instructor. If the instructor hasn’t set up a social forum for off topic discussion ask they to set one up.
8 Has it been asked before?
If it’s a forum where you ask questions check to see if your question has been asked before. It’s annoying when the same question keeps being asked.
9 Help Other Learners
If you know the answer to someone’s question go ahead and answer it. Answers don’t have to come from the instructors.
10 No Yelling No Flaming
DON’T PUT EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS it means you are shouting. No tantrums, no rants and no swearing. You may be online but you are still in class.
11 It Can’t Be Unsaid
Like anything on the internet you can’t take back what you have written so think before you hit submit. Not sure if it sounds OK? Try reading it aloud. If it sounds disrespectful the other person reading it may think so too.