Holding a conversation over a discussion forum can be difficult because we lack many of the non-verbal cues (timing, silences, bodily gestures, facial expressions) that are important when we talk with people face-to-face. The absence of non-verbal cues can sometimes lead to misunderstandings that could escalate into heated (and unnecessary) conflict. When writing a post in the discussion forums, respond thoughtfully, appropriately, and courteously. Read contributions made by your classmates. Personal messages that do not concern other members of the class should be sent directly to the person concerned, not posted on the course site. All of these guidelines are part of a set of conventions known as netiquette.

Learn about Netiquette

(Allot 20 minutes)

Watch this short video about netiquette.

Dig deeper by reading the Core Rules of Netiquette as excerpted from the book Netiquette by Virginia Shea.

All class discussions are academic discussions, which means that relevant academic conventions apply. Respond to discussion questions thoughtfully, clearly, and concisely. When possible, justify your responses to questions with reliable evidence. 

Strategies for contributing to the discussion forums 

(adapted from Slava Gerovitch's "Strategies for Writing a Good Reading Response Paper", from the MIT OpenCourseWare site)

  • Define your personal stance towards the issues raised in the readings.
  • Avoid generalities, be specific.
  • Focus on the points where you disagree, or where you can push the argument further.
  • Cite examples from your personal experience or from other literature.
  • Ask provocative questions, even if you do not know the answers.
  • End a discussion forum post with a question addressed to other readers so that they have something they can respond to.
  • Respond to your classmates' forum posts. 

Responding to classmates' posts

The best kinds of replies are the ones that generate meaningful conversation. This guide from Bladen Community College suggests that the best kind of replies either respectfully disagree with the original post, or agree with and expand upon it. They suggest framing a response as one of the following: 

  • "No, because..."
  • "Yes, and..."
  • "Yes, but..."

Do not be afraid to give a dissenting opinion, but only if you have done your due diligence and have actually taken the time and the effort to understand your classmate's view in the first place. A good way of thinking about this is summarized in Steven Covey's principle, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," as discussed in this video posted by the YouTube user CHOICE.

Know which language register to use

Language register refers to the level of formality that you use when talking to someone.  This helpful introduction to language registers identifies five kinds of registers:

  • Static
  • Formal
  • Consultative
  • Casual 
  • Intimate

The language register you use when participating in a discussion forum is almost always different from the language register you use when talking to someone face-to-face. In general, use a formal or consultative language register in your posts.  A static register is almost never appropriate. A casual register may on occasions be acceptable, but you should be very careful about using it. Do not use a casual register when delivering a critical or an opposing viewpoint. Finally, you should never use an intimate register in a discussion forum. Using casual or intimate registers may cause other people to misinterpret your message... which leads me to the next point: you should exercise caution when reading and reacting to other people's messages.

Reading and Reacting to Other People's Messages

(adapted from a guide by the Simon Fraser University Center for Distance Education)

If someone posts something that you find particularly offensive or hurtful, you can do several things:

  1. Consider the possibility that you may be misinterpreting the message. Reread the message and check with the person posting the message to determine if you understood him or her correctly.
  2. If you did understand the message correctly and you are offended by it, inform the person in as constructive a way as you can. Discussing your perspective may improve communication and understanding.
  3. Begin a discussion with the rest of your group or class to establish guidelines for communication. Trying to work through communication issues will help you to develop valuable interpersonal skills.
  4. Don't retaliate with hurtful words or personally attack the person who posted the message. This can lead to on-going negative  discussions called "flame wars," which benefits no one.
  5. Finally, if these steps do not resolve your concerns, contact your FIC