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					   Athabasca University Computer Systems

Tips for Successful CMC
(Computer Mediated Communication)

                  Prepared by
       Karen Rosa, Computing Services
  Rosalie Wells, Centre for Distance Education
Athabasca University
All rights reserved.
Printed in Canada
                                CMC is one of the newest technologies to be adopted for distance
                                teaching. Using this medium, students and an instructor who might
                                otherwise be separated by time and distance can be linked together.
                                Participants in a CMC class use their personal computers,
                                communications software and modems to connect to a central host
                                computer that runs the CMC software. They have 24-hour access to the
                                host computer and can dial in (log on) to receive or to leave messages
                                for other people.

Characteristics and implications of CMC:
                                Unlike a face-to-face class, the CMC classroom is open to you 24 hours
                                a day, 7 days a week. Communication is typically asynchronous (people
                                will be logging on at whatever time they choose), though sometimes
                                people may be communicating with each other at the same time
                                (synchronous interaction). This provides several advantages:

Advantages of CMC:                 For the first time, you have an opportunity to communicate with
                                    your peers, without leaving home, and without playing telephone
                                    tag. With CMC, you also have the opportunity to contact your
                                    instructor without waiting for his or her tutor night.

                                   Everyone has an equal opportunity to speak up in class because there
                                    is no competition to "get a word in edgewise.”

                                   Sometimes students who are vocal in face-to-face instruction will
                                    also be regular participants in a CMC class. However, it is also
                                    common for people who seldom speak up in a face-to-face
                                    classroom to be regular contributors with CMC.

However, the fact that the         Transmission time for CMC messages is virtually instantaneous.
messages are transmitted
that quickly doesn't mean
that the receiver will answer      People find that CMC discussions are often better than in face-to-
immediately. Delays of a            face classes because everyone has an opportunity to reflect before
few hours to a day or more
are not uncommon; the               writing and to consult outside reference materials as necessary.
reason is that people will be
logging on to check their
messages at all hours of the
day and night and on
different days.

doc\mdedoc\tips.doc                                  1                                     2/21/2010
                          Typically, most if not all of the communication in a course enhanced by
                          CMC is in written form (an exception might be occasional telephone
                          contact where necessary). It is unlikely you will meet the instructor or
                          your classmates, unless a face-to-face training session is required at the
                          start of the class. As a result, you won't have any visual cues to guide
                          you as you correspond with others. These differences have some
                          important implications for normal communications processes:

Implications of CMC:         Sometimes visual cues like race, gender, age, status, and so on may
                              be distracting. With CMC, people often find it is easier to focus on
                              the content of the message rather than the characteristics of its

                             When we talk with people face-to-face, we rely on cues like facial
                              expression, gestures, and body language to find out what effect our
                              words are having on the other person. Even on the telephone, we
                              still have pauses and tone of voice to help us. With CMC, all these
                              cues are gone. You may occasionally find it difficult to "see" the
                              effects of your words or even to adequately express yourself.
                              However, there are various techniques you may use with CMC to
                              compensate for the old cues. See the following section for more

                             Even with these techniques, it may be difficult both to express
                              humour and emotions and to interpret those of others. Precision in
                              expression, compassion, good humour, and patience are critical to
                              minimize misunderstandings.

          Successful CMC:
Information Management:   Brevity is a virtue! Wherever possible, try to keep your messages
                          approximately 6-8 lines in length. It is rarely necessary for a message to
                          exceed one screen in length. If you do need to write a longer message,
                          consider either:

                              a) breaking the message into several parts, titled accordingly.

                              b) writing a 1-2 sentence abstract at the beginning; this helps other
                              participants know if they want to read the entire message.

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                        Each message should be organized around one basic point, rather than
                        being a running list of heterogeneous observations and questions. A
                        single focus makes it easier for others to respond effectively and

                        Questions should each be on separate lines, rather than following each
                        other in a paragraph format; this makes it easier for people to respond to
                        each one.

                        Message topics should ALWAYS be described in the subject line.
                        Filling in the subject line makes it easier for other participants to read
                        and respond to your message.

                           a) a complex writing style with excessive use of clauses.
                           b) a rambling writing style; get to the point quickly if you want
                           people to read your response.
                           c) solid screenfuls ("screamfuls") of text. Long paragraphs of text
                           are quite imposing. Break-up the “screamful” by using:

                                  tab indents
                                  a line or two between paragraphs
                                  lists of items preceded by bullets (*), letters, or numbers

Emotional Expression:   The lack of contextual cues such as eye contact, tone of voice, and body
                        language often make it difficult for participants to interpret the
                        emotional "colouring" of electronic text. Various conventions for
                        emotional expression have been established through trial and error.
                        Some of these symbols include:

                            :-( expresses sadness or mild displeasure
                            ;-) expresses sarcasm (use this one sparingly!)
                            :-O expresses surprise or shock
                            :-) expresses pleasure, happiness, or laughter
                            alternatives: <<HUGS>> <<smile>>

                        CAPITAL LETTERS: may be used to EMPHASIZE, but avoid typing
                        in only capital letters as it may "sound" AS THOUGH YOU'RE

                        Humour is often a valuable component of the emotional "colouring" of a
                        conference, as long as it is at no one's expense.

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NETiquette:              Feel free to use first names in your conference and e-mail messages;
                          this makes the message seem more personal.
                         Pat each other on the back; thank others for their acknowledgements
                          and suggestions.
                         Sometimes, consider personalizing your message by briefly alluding
                          to where you're writing from, what's going on around you (the
                          rumble of the vacuum cleaner, the sound of the late show on TV
                         In general, do not worry about perfect grammar and typing when you
                          use conferencing and e-mail. What is important is that you can relax
                          and enjoy communicating with CMC, and that with little or no
                          effort, readers can understand what you're saying. However, it is
                          important to note that all formal assignments and papers should meet
                          the same impeccable standards you're already accustomed to.
                         Always respond promptly to any messages received. Not only is this
                          courteous, it's also the only way for the sender to know you received
                          the message. If you don't have time to write a full reply, consider
                          sending a brief note, "Thanks for your message; I'll get to it as soon
                          as I can."
                         Notify others if you will be away from the computer for more than a
                          few days due to work, travel, vacation etc. This is particularly
                          important if you're working on a group assignment.
                         Be gentle with criticism, more importaint in on-line communication
                          than in face-to-face because your audience can't see your face. Don't
                          criticize classmates but rather criticize their logic, rationale, data,
                         If you are responding to a controversial or sensitive topic, consider
                          sending it only after you've had some time to read, rewrite, and
                          reconsider it.
                         Thank people for their reflections upon your comments; do this
                          either publicly in the conference or privately via e-mail.

doc\mdedoc\tips.doc                        4                                       2/21/2010

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