How to Communicate in an Online College Environment

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

Start by becoming thoroughly familiar with the online college technology and learning management system utilized by your school. In most online learning situations it is recommended that you use the management system to communicate with your professor and fellow students versus using a personal email account.

For example, Blackboard is Linfield’s learning management system and this is where email strings and discussion forums are posted for all students in the class to view and respond. Most often these discussions are asynchronous, taking place over a designated 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 online learning.  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 and instructors with the ability to send an email only to the instructor, instead of to the whole class. 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 your professor a message for instructor only 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, 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 established as a student of that institution. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking your college email regularly for updates about registration, courses, and graduation. Setting up an “email forward” to your personal email address facilitates your receiving the school related email quickly.

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

Share & Discuss

Professors give considerable weight to a student’s online participation and interactions with other students when assessing grades, and it is typical to see 15 to 25  percent of an overall grade be allocated to this. Just as it is important to raise your hand to answer and ask questions in a physical class, seeing and being seen in the discussions shows the professor how involved each student is and how they are progressing.

Make It Personal

Don’t be afraid to put your personality out into the virtual classroom by expressing your opinion or an experience you had that can explain your perspective on the topic. It is through practical applications in real-life scenarios that we often learn the most, and sharing this with fellow students can enrich the entire class. Further, the virtual classroom is capable of becoming a virtual community, so the more you participate, the sooner that community will begin to take shape. A learning community will boost the overall experience in the exchange of viewpoints, and in contributing to your own learning, which in turn is likely to increase your chances for earning higher marks.

  • Utilize student friendships to share notes or materials
  • Organize a study group with those in your area by meeting at a coffee shop or public library to prepare for the midterm or final
  • Organize an online study group that meets weekly through the “chat room” feature in many course management systems.
  • Possibly increase your chances of making life-long friends with similar interests to you!

Online Learning Communication Etiquette

Etiquette is an important factor in sharing ideas and discussing topics in an online setting. The easiest rule to live by online is to imagine interactions in one-on-one and group settings are no different than interacting in person. To reach out to talk with the professor, approach him or her as if it were a face-to-face conversation. If making a statement to be read by the entire class, imagine physically standing in the front of the room. Finally, when providing feedback in discussion strings don’t forget to be constructive and polite.

When participating in online discussion boards in class, here are some tips to follow before you hit the send button:

  • Think through your idea or question for clarity
  • Make the communication as concise as possible
  • Add an appropriate subject in designated field, such as the class name, number, and brief description of the related topic (for example: Midterm exam, Chapter 11 reading, or Week 3 assignment)
  • Begin with a salutation (for example: ‘Dear Professor’)
  • Complete the body of the text, or subject line content
  • Finish with an appropriate closing being sure to write your complete name.

An important aspect of online college communication and education in general is to understand that the more one participates, the greater the personal experience will be. In an online university or classroom setting it takes bringing into play both communication awareness and technically savvy skills that can be acquired and refined over time. The effort will pay off because continually improving your communication skills will leave you more professionally prepared upon graduation when navigating the work force and  advancing in your professional field.