How to Communicate in an Online College Environment

by Jane Wilde, Instructional Designer for Linfield College

Communicating effectively is an important aspect of any college experience, both online and in the traditional classroom. Navigating your way through interactions with your peers and professors in the virtual classroom may feel somewhat different. In this article, learn about appropriate online communication etiquette to boost your success as an online college program student.

Start by becoming thoroughly familiar with the technology and learning management systems utilized by your online college program. In most online courses, it is recommended that you use the management system to communicate with your professor and fellow students versus using a personal email account. Check the introductory information within a course to learn whether your professor prefers to receive questions within blackboard or through her or his email.

For example, Linfield uses Blackboard as its learning management system, and this is where discussion threads are posted for all students in the class to view and respond. Most often, these discussions are asynchronous, taking place over a designated period of time, such as a week, without requiring students and the professor to be online and responding in real time. Flexibility is the nature and greatest attribute of an online college program. Topics appropriate to discuss in the online classroom are generally related to the course, such as specific assignments and course material questions.

Blackboard provides students with the ability to send messages to everyone in the class, selected students or only to the instructor. If you have a question that is unrelated to course material—for example, if you have to reschedule an exam due to jury duty—sending a message to only your instructor is appropriate. The instructor will reply to you individually in this regard.

Using email outside of the course learning management system is another asynchronous medium that is often relied upon as an effective way to communicate with your academic advisors, school administrators, instructors and fellow students on topics unrelated to the course assignments.

Most colleges and universities will expect you to be reachable by email at the email address that you establish as a student of that online college program. Through this email you may be alerted to changes in assignments and important information about registrations, courses and graduation. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking your college email regularly. Setting up an “email forward” to your personal email address facilitates your receiving the school-related email quickly.

Communication between students and between the professor and students within the online college program is privileged communication, and only registered students in that course may participate.