APU Careers & Learning Online Learning

Writing with Classmates: The Etiquette Around Discussion Forums

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writing-online-courtesyAnybody who has ever taken an online university class knows all about discussion boards or forums. Without a face-to-face environment in which to converse with one’s fellow students, the typed word must replace the spoken one.

Most online classes feature a weekly written assignment or a weekly reading assignment and a conversation about them on a virtual discussion board. I’ve frequently participated in such discussions during the course of my current degree program.

My professors will usually stipulate a minimum of 100 words as an adequate length for a discussion post. Another stipulation is to make the discussion lively but not offensive. Additionally, students usually have to reply or comment on their peers’ discussion board posts.

So, whether you’re posting an initial comment or replying to a fellow student, here are some other factors to incorporate and consider:

  • When there is a set number of words (100 in my case) to meet on a post, don’t make your point in 50 words and then add superfluous fluff as the next 50 words. An example: “So, to conclude on what I was just re-iterating, I feel that my introductory statement on this post adequately sums up my stance on this particular hot-button issue.” That’s 28 words of fluff and filler. A professor will see through that in a heartbeat–as will your peers.
  • If you disagree with a fellow student’s opinion, there are assertive yet polite ways to get your point across. Phrases like: “What a load of nonsense,” or “you have no clue what you’re talking about,” should be avoided. That might seem obvious, but I’ve seen them in discussion board posts. Obviously, a better choice of terminology would be: “I take a different stance on the position you’ve stated,” or “Interesting, but let me offer up a differing view.”
  • If you’re only required to respond to two of your fellow students’ posts, respond to four–or five. The whole point of a discussion board is to learn about your online classmates input and take on a given subject. If you were in a brick and mortar setting, you’d likely chat with more than just two of your classmates about your assignments, etc.
  • Keep all discussion board posts on point. Nobody wants to hear about your political stance, your hobbies, your pets, or your car when the assignment at hand is about medieval literature.
  • Grammar! And Spelling! Don’t ever assume that discussion boards are fair game for forgetting punctuation, formatting, commas and the like. Having said that, it’s also a bad idea to correct your fellow student’s errors too–leave that for your professor.

Ultimately, discussion boards are a vital component of online university classes. They often make up a significant part of your grade and should garner respect.

So, keep the discussions going–your comments are welcomed and I don’t have a word limit.

By Glynn Cosker
Online Learning Tips Contributor

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