Tips for Communicating Effectively Online by John Sener, Sener Learning Services
Like any form of human communication, on-line communication is a complex and sometimes confusing realm. If you follow three simple rules, however, chances are that you will communicate effectively online in this course: Rule #1: Do the „write‟ thing Rule #2: Follow proper „netiquette‟ Rule #3: Convey your persona through „social presence‟ Here are some tips to help you follow these three simple rules. Rule #1: Do the ‘write’ thing This means understanding that most communication in this course, as with most on-line learning environments at present, takes place through writing. Treating on-line communication as a form of written communication will help you take advantage of its strengths while avoiding the pitfalls of its weaknesses. Think of on-line communication as akin to old-fashioned letter correspondence or passing hand-written notes, only at a greatly increased and accelerated volume (similar to what has happened with written office communication thanks to the computer, fax, and printer, for instance). As with other forms of written communication, communicating online through writing has some distinct advantages: It enables you to reflect on your ideas and think them through thoroughly before presenting them. It gives you more time to compose your communications so that your words say what you mean. Sharing written communication with your other learning participants often allows you to get to know each other‟s thoughts and opinions much more than is possible in a traditional classroom. (Not convinced? Read the box below.)
Use your written communication to help the discussion along. Avoid merely repeating what others have already said or making comments that don‟t really add much (e.g., saying “I agree” without elaboration).
The typical classroom course discussion happens in a single, linear flow with only one open channel of communication. Think of how many times you have had a question to ask or a thought to contribute, but the class discussion moved on before you were able to fully form or express your thought. By contrast, with online communication everyone has a channel open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Online communication provides every learner with the opportunity to participate much more fully in a discussion.
To take advantage of these benefits, though, you need the following skills: You must be reasonably skilled and comfortable expressing yourself in writing. This is usually not a problem for participants in this course, but it‟s worth keeping in mind. More importantly, you must be reasonably skilled with typing your communications. At present, unfortunately, the keyboard is the primary interface between you and the on-line world. Being a good typist helps, but many on-line learners get by just fine without being fast typists. Good writing is good on-line writing, so following basic rules helps, for example:
o o o o
Be short, concise, and organized; avoid long, rambling, or confusing messages. Take the time to edit your messages if at all possible. Follow the instructions given with each exercise to help you stay „on point.‟ Neatness, proper grammar and spelling do matter, although as a reader you should also make allowances for others‟ typing skills (see “netiquette” section below)
On-line written communication also has the same pitfalls as other written communication. It‟s sometimes hard to tell the tone of someone‟s written words; for instance, written humor often loses nuance or is misunderstood. Since you are already a highly experienced veteran of written communication, though, keeping in mind that you are using a written medium should help you avoid most of these related pitfalls. Rule #2: Follow proper ‘netiquette’ Even though on-line communication is primarily written communication, it is a different medium from traditional written communication in some respects. Accordingly, it has spawned its own rules for using the new medium, along with a new vocabulary. For example, on-line messages in discussion boards or listservs are commonly called “posts,” and pictorial combinations of punctuation used to express feelings are called emoticons. Good on-line communication requires following proper „netiquette,‟ or „etiquette for communicating on the Internet.‟ Here are some useful „do‟s and don‟ts‟ for proper netiquette: DON’T say anything on-line that you wouldn’t be willing to say to someone face-to-face. Just as normally nice people occasionally turn into rude drivers and even commit acts of „road rage‟ while driving their cars, normally nice people occasionally turn into rude communicators when they go online. DON‟T say highly negative, insulting, or disparaging things about your fellow learners or their views online (this practice, called “flaming,” is viewed as very poor behavior). DO state your views confidently but kindly, including your differences of opinion. DO give someone the benefit of the doubt if you‟re unsure about the meaning or tone of a comment. DO make allowances for fellow participants‟ typing skills when reading posts. DON‟T judge the quality of a post by the quality of the typing. DO use basic “smileys” or other emoticons if you feel comfortable doing so, as these can enhance your fellow participants‟ understanding of your posts. The most basic ones are: o :-) = smiley face; ;-) = winking smiley face; :-( = frowning face DO keep a sense of humor – remember that on-line learning is new and unfamiliar territory to many course participants (and perhaps to you as well).
Rule #3: Convey your persona through ‘social presence’ One myth about on-line learning is that interacting with others online is somehow inferior to other forms of interaction because of its limitations. It is certainly true that on-line communication, like written communication, has its limitations – no body language, voice intonations, taste, touch, or smell. On the other hand, as a form of written communication, on-line communication can actually be richer than other forms of communication in many ways. Think of love letters, or the collected correspondence of many prominent historical figures. How is it possible for scribbled lines on pieces of paper to give us such a rich sense of a person? One way to explain it is that people are able to create a persona through what they write. Conveying your persona in part means using language which communicates in a social manner and reveals something about who you are. Some learning researchers have labeled this practice as „social presence‟ and have begun to study the question of how on-line learners convey a sense of social presence in their communications. One researcher has identified three ways to do this:
a) Communicate emotion, values, attitudes, or beliefs through language (affective); b) Respond and interact directly with others‟ messages (interactive); c) Use language as behavior designed to reinforce the group‟s sense of itself as a learning community (cohesive). Here are some specific examples of language strategies or behaviors. Study these examples carefully and try to use these strategies in your on-line postings. Affective Communication* Strategy or Behavior Use descriptive words that indicate feeling (e.g., love, hate, sad, happy, etc.) Example(s) I really like how you structured that lesson… I just hate it when shortsighted administrators undermine the work we‟re trying to do… I personally think that cultural stereotyping is unavoidable; we have to be aware of how they affect our judgment. Relying too much on non-verbal communication can get you in trouble if you ask me. !!!!!!!!!! I was reeeeeaaaaaaly hoping you‟d answer my question. Thanks for the response. :-) There‟s some great beachfront property in Nebraska they should know about… Let‟s hope they didn‟t attend the Enron School of Business Management ;-) *NOTE: Keep in mind that learners in an on-line course often have different cultural backgrounds; remember to model, practice, and remind participants to be sensitive to cultural differences when communicating affectively, for example when using jokes, cultural references, et al.
Express personal values, beliefs, & attitudes
Use non-verbal features of written language to convey emotion, such as repetitious punctuation or emoticons
Use teasing, cajoling, or sarcastic remarks (NOT directed at others!)
Interactive Communication Strategy or Behavior Acknowledge others‟ messages by referring directly to them or quoting from them Agree or disagree with other‟s messages Example(s) When you commented about how you like the way I structured that lesson… I agree with your comment about how short-sighted managers can undermine one‟s work… I disagree that learning online takes more time… I‟ve come to the same conclusion about short-sighted managers… I understand what you are saying, but I disagree… What a great answer! I really like your sense of humor about this… Invite responses by asking questions or other means - What does everyone else think about this? - I‟d appreciate it if someone else with expertise in this area would weigh in on this… - Comments and questions welcome… Cohesive Communication Strategy or Behavior Address or refer to others by name Use greetings and closures at the beginning and end of messages Refer to the group as we, us, our, ours Reflect on the course as it is progressing Example(s) - Juan,… - Interesting idea, Maria. - Hi everyone, - That‟s all for now. - , Sarah. Well, we sure have differing opinions on this, don‟t we? That second module was a real bear, but I‟m getting the hang of learning online now…
Offer praise, encouragement, or reinforcement to others
Conclusion Communicating online can be quite effective and enjoyable if you remain aware that it‟s a written medium, observe proper netiquette, and use specific language „behaviors‟ to indicate a sense of who you are. Use what you already know about communicating through writing, and enjoy yourself! References and Resources Rio Hondo College, 2001, “Tips for Success: Communicating Effectively Online.” URL retrieved April 13, 2003: http://www.cvc2.org/webct/success2.htm Swan, K., 2002. “Content Analysis of Course Transcripts: Social Presence.” URL retrieved April 13, 2003: http://www.alnresearch.org/