Without doubt, for millions of students taking courses in the traditional setting, having to contribute in classroom discussions was frightening. The worst part was that participation was a significant component of the final grade, so if you didn’t speak or you didn’t have your homework done when called upon, then you received a very poor grade.
As online courses and degree programs began to surface, many felt that this was the answer to the participation problem. In reality, that is not true. With everyone connected these days, course requirements dictate that online students participate in online discussions.
Indeed, many students find the discussion quite stimulating and interesting. Often, there are others who have been in the work field for some time and reading their comments are valuable to get a broader picture of the subject matter.
Also, others do not have to see you, nor do they hear your voice. This can be a real benefit to online participation. Instead of worrying about how you look, or whether you don’t speak loud enough, you can focus on good content and write something meaningful, which will ultimately lead to a rewarding experience.
Here are five tips that can help you get the most out of your online discussions and possibly improve your final grade.
Tip #1 – Read the Manual First
Yes, this is rather obvious, but how many people try to do something without the instructions? Don’t let that happen when you are posting. Read the course outline or the syllabus before making the first post. Most often, the professor will state clear instruction on what is to be said, how it is to be posted, how long the content should be and how often you are to post. Remember that you might say something outstanding, but you are not going to earn any Brownie marks for disregarding the explicit directions.
Tip #2 – Don’t Wait
Procrastination is not your friend with online board discussions. If everyone waits to the very last minute to make their posts, then nothing is very substantive. There is no discussion. The page is just a collection of people’s statements. Making a post early, well before the deadlines, allows for in-depth discussions and really shows your willingness to say something contributory.
Tip #3 – Ask Questions
If you are not sure about how the process works or what is expected of you. Do not follow the lead of others, as they may have no clue either, or they may not care. The instructor set the parameters, and that is the person from where you should seek support and clarification.
Tip #4 – Say Something of Value
Okay, you don’t have to be Socrates, here, but at the same time, just agreeing with others is not going to get your a passing grade in participation. Think about what you have to say and get it posted. You are taking the course, and you do hope to work in that field, so you must have something substantive to contribute. Back up your arguments or opinions with citations. This clearly shows you have spent the time to think out your position, plus it helps to avoid being accused of plagiarism.
Tip #5 – Expand on Previous Posts
This process is called discussion for a reason. Each and every student should interact much like a physical face-to-face conversation. When one person posts, hopefully, the next posts will expand on the information in the first. Make it sound like a fluent conversation and not just everyone adding bits and pieces to a string.
Tip #6 – Review Your Words
While not everyone is going to speak with perfect grammar, posts can appear to be offensive online, since you cannot see the person’s facial expressions or body language. You absolutely do not want to be taken the wrong way. Give some thought to your tone and wording. In fact, create your post in Notepad first, then after you are happy with it, post it to the online discussion board.
As a final thought, these are things that you should NOT do in an online discussion.
- Don’t use capital words. There is no reason to shout.
- Don’t use text message abbreviations. You are at school and you are expected to speak in proper English.
- Don’t swear or use words that have specific vulgar connotations. Be mindful, also of different races, religions and cultures.
- You don’t have to be paranoid about political-correctness, but don’t open yourself up to flaming by making stereotypic comments.
- Don’t use excessive exclamation marks. One in the appropriate position will do.
- Don’t use smilies. This is not a Kindergarten art class.
Lastly, use complete and properly formed sentences. Again, you might not be one-hundred percent grammatically correct, but speak coherently, as opposed to all over the place with points and unfinished thoughts.
Here are a few more pointers …