Kinds of Communication in online courses

Personal-natured communications

If you run into any issues, communicate early and often with your instructor. This is especially important if you are ill and cannot make course deadlines. Any personal-type questions or concerns must be emailed to your instructor. Include your course title in your email subject line.

General course communications

Some courses may have a discussion board dedicated to course-related questions. These discussion boards are a great way to ask or find answers to questions you (or your peers) may have. Check if your course(s) have these types of discussion boards - if not, email your instructor.


“Netiquette” is a protocol for interacting and behaving online.  Although digital interactions are not face-to-face, they affect real people; thus, we must be sensitive to the fact that our words impact others.  In online communications (text, email, discussion board posts), tone does not always come across well. Always seek clarification and potential solutions when misunderstandings, disagreements, or problems occur.

Here are few tips:

  • Be sensitive to others’ cultural, social, political and linguistic backgrounds.  Everyone is different and unique.  Remember to show respect for our differences.
  • Incorporate professionalism and good taste when composing responses in discussion forums, online collaboration and feedback tools, and other interactive spaces.  Avoid profanity and other harsh comments.  Minimize your use of slang, as it can be misinterpreted.
  • Avoid using all capital letters as it can be construed as “shouting” online, which can be perceived as aggressive behavior.
  • When using acronyms (we have many in the educational field!) make sure to clarify its meaning in your message.
  • Proofread your responses for accuracy and tone.
  • Seek assignment feedback and strive to understand its constructive value, even if the feedback seems critical.
  • When you are asked to give feedback, do it in a constructive, professional manner.
  • Avoid any statement or action (e.g., verbal statements, emails, online discussions) that might be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, insensitive, offensive, or disrespectful against any other student, staff, or faculty member.

Collaboration with peers

The Online Student Toolkit from Purdue University provides an overview of different tools to help you collaborate with your peers in an online environment. Opening lines of communication, early and often, is important. Also:

  • Determine if the communication is via email, video chat, phone, etc.
  • Establish roles for group members in the assignment (e.g., someone is the editor, project manager, or researcher of a certain part of the assignment).
  • Set goals in order to meet the deadline.
  • Be accountable for your portion of the assignment and communicate with your members.
  • Indicate to your instructor early-on if there is a group problem. For example, by letting your instructor know a group member is not participating.

Online learning accommodations