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There’s no such thing as in class physical discussion in online education, but online discussion boards provide a valuable alternative. While discussion boards have pros and cons when compared to in class discussions, the fact is that if you want to succeed to your fullest, you need to know how to participate in discussion boards. In fact, many online universities will assign part of your mark to how effectively you engage in online discussion boards. To help make the process a little easier, here are 5 tips for using discussion boards.
1. Answer in paragraphs, not sentences
When professors are marking and evaluating your online presence, they are going to be looking at how deeply you engage with the subject matter. If you provide only quick, short answers, you give off the appearance that you have simply glanced over the subject matter. Your answers should be in paragraphs, unless otherwise stated by the professor, with an intro, a single key point, and evidence supporting your claim. This is your chance to show that you have engaged critically with readings and material, and to use specific points to backup your thoughts.
2. Make note of unclear concepts and bring them up
Discussion boards are a great opportunity to get your questions answered and to clear up issues you have had with your material. In addition to getting answers, you will also show that you are doing your best to understand the materials. When you are going through your readings or studying, take a note of the concepts which are a little bit fuzzier than others in order to bring them up in the next discussion.
3. Learn by explaining
When others are unclear with a concept that you have a firm grasp on, speak up! Not only will you gain a reputation as a helpful student, you will reinforce concepts through the explanatory process.
4. Practice proper etiquette
It can be easy to feel alienated and like you are just talking to a computer when you are studying online. The danger of this is that you will act less polite to others than in a real, face to face interaction. The basics are simple: be polite, don’t use all caps, stay on topic, and realize that your comments can be seen by the public. A helpful tip to personalize others is to create a mental picture of your classmates through their postings, as this will give you a gauge of their personalities and help you find like minded individuals to reach out to. Just remember, everyone else is creating a mental picture of you: so be polite, articulate, and on topic.
5. Read through other peoples responses carefully before posting
It can be incredibly easy to misconstrue what someone is saying in the online format when nuances of non-verbal communication are unavailable. The onus is on you to carefully dissect their points to avoid embarrassing mistakes. As well, this will prevent you from repeating points that others have said, which is a surefire way of being docked marks. There’s nothing worse than replying to someone and then realizing you completely misread their comment!
Whether you are graded on your participation or not, online discussion groups are an invaluable resource to understanding the materials and to engage with your peers and professors. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the format, follow these tips, and put yourself out there. You will find that if you engage in discussions you will feel less alienated and more on top of your studies.