Play Nice When Interacting with Students and Professors Online

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January 3rd, 2011

A big part of the online college experience is contributing to conversations on discussion boards, chat and e-mail. Discussion boards are a place where students can interact freely with each other on class topics, and where professors can gauge your level of class participation. However, as with any typed communications, misunderstandings and hurt feelings can occur because readers can't see when a classmate is joking, being sarcastic or being mean-spirited. Your professor can also get the wrong impression of you based on what you post online and in e-mails. It's important to represent yourself effectively online by observing some simple rules of online etiquette.

For starters, you would be wise to read everything you write three times slowly before posting it on an online discussion board or hitting the send button for that e-mail. Not only is this a chance to check for simple errors and typos that can make you look silly, but it's also a chance to quickly evaluate how the content of your writing will be perceived on the receiving end. It is usually only on second or third glance that most people realize that what they had written wasn't really what they meant to get across or that it might be insulting to other students.

When commenting on discussion boards, it's important to stay on topic. Many discussion boards contain threads where students exchange ideas on a specific topic. For example, if a group of students in your online philosophy class is discussing arguments for and against the existence of God in a thread, it's not appropriate to branch off of that topic onto a different one, such as whether or not euthanasia is ethical. The proper etiquette is to start a different thread with your new discussion topic.

Another thing to avoid in discussion boards is personal attacks on other students. You can respectfully disagree with someone else's point of view, but it's much more valuable to the conversation to back up your own point of view than to resort to calling a classmate stupid or an idiot. Also, to be mindful of the group atmosphere online, if you find that you and another classmate are involved in an ongoing back-and-forth, take the conversation to e-mail where other students won't have to read all of it.

Finally, remember to be respectful of your professors online. A good rule of thumb: don't allow the online atmosphere to get you thinking you can say something to them in an e-mail that you wouldn't say to their face.

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