Welcome to the world of online, Web-based courses. If you're like many people, this is your first experience with an online course. You may have taken some courses before, and you may also have had experience with some form of electronic communication, but a Web-based course is a new area of social interaction, and as such it has its own rules for interacting with others. This guide is intended to be an overview of appropriate etiquette for interaction in this new environment.
A key distinguishing feature of an online course is that communication occurs solely via the written word. Because of this the body language voice tone and instantaneous listener feedback of the traditional classroom are all absent. These facts need to be taken into consideration both when contributing messages to a discussion and when reading them. Keep in mind the following points:
- Respect others and their opinions. In online learning students from various backgrounds come together to learn. It is important to respect their feelings and opinions though they may differ from your own.
- Tone Down Your Language. Given the absence of face-to-face clues, written text can easily be misinterpreted. Avoid the use of strong or offensive language and the excessive use of exclamation points. If you feel particularly strongly about a point, it may be best to write it first as a draft and then to review it, before posting it, in order to remove any strong language.
- Pick the right tone. Since we depend on the written word in online learning, it is especially important to choose the right words to get your meaning across. For example, sarcasm is harder to detect when you read the words rather than hearing them.
- Keep a Straight Face. In general, avoid humor and sarcasm. These frequently depend either on facial or tone of voice cues absent in text communication or on familiarity with the reader.
- Consider others’ privacy. Ask for permission if you want to forward someone’s email messages to third parties. Keep in mind that all private email mail is considered copyrighted by the original author.
- Avoid inappropriate material.
- Be forgiving. If someone states something that you find offensive, mention this directly to the instructor. Remember that the person contributing to the discussion might be new to this form of communication. What you find offensive may quite possibly have been unintended and can best be cleared up by the instructor.
- Think before you hit the send button. Think carefully about the content of your message before contributing it. Once sent to the group there is no taking it back. Grammar and spelling errors reflect on you and your audience might not be able to decode misspelled words or poorly constructed sentences.
- Test for Clarity. Messages may often appear perfectly clear to you as you compose them, but turn out to be perfectly obtuse to your reader. One way to test for clarity is to read your message aloud to see if it flows smoothly. If you can read it to another person before posting it, even better.
- Brevity is best. Be as concise as possible when contributing to a discussion. Your points might me missed if hidden in a flood of text.
- Stick to the point. Contributions to a discussion should stick to the subject. Don’t waste others' time by going off on irrelevant tangents.
- Frivolous email. Don’t forward jokes, "chain letter's" or unimportant email to other students without their permission. Not only does it fill up their mailboxes but may offend people who do not share the same sense of humor or who are tired of these types of email.
- Read First, Write Later. Don't add your comments to a discussion before reading the comments of other students unless the assignment specifically asks you to. Doing so is tantamount to ignoring your fellow students and is rude. Comments related to the content of previous messages should be posted under them to keep related topics organized, and you should specify the person and the particular point you are following up on.
- Netspeak. Although electronic communication is still young, many conventions have already been established. DO NOT TYPE IN ALL CAPS. This is regarded as shouting and is out of place in a classroom. Acronyms and emoticons (arrangements of symbols to express emotions) are popular, but excessive use of them can make your message difficult to read. Some common ones include:
Acronyms Emoticons FYI = for your information :-) = smiley face: happiness, pleasure B/C = because :-( = frowning face: displeasureW/ = with ;-) = wink BTW = by the way :-0 = shock, surprise F2F = face to face :-/ = skepticism, unease, apologetic FAQ = frequently asked questions