Digital communications can be divided into two main types: text-based and audio/visual based (although these types can overlap e.g. text + image/video). Text-based communications platforms, include things such as forums, chat services, email, blogs, wikis, etc. Audio/visual communications platforms are things like Skype, video/video-conferencing platforms, and the online tutorial platform Blackboard Collaborate. Social media sites are increasingly becoming hybridised spaces where messages are conveyed via text, visual media, hypermedia, and video media concurrently. And, online communities can span all forms of communication.
Digital communications can also be catagorised as either synchronous or asynchronous:
Email and web access is provided by the University for all students. Students are expected to use their University email addresses for communication with members of the University. Staff will not email students at private email addresses, and circular emails will always be sent to the student’s University email address.
VERY IMPORTANT: Students are expected to read their University email regularly, in order to read messages from staff and to keep up with general information and notices circulated by email. Students should also check their email outside of semester times, especially when results are due for release and before the start of a new semester.
Many staff are comfortable with students addressing them by their first name but it is always wise to check this with the individual staff member. It is expected that when e-mailing a staff member that you adopt the appropriate format suitable for formal communications.
LearnJCU's online discussion boards are sometimes used for supplimentary discussions between lecturer's and classes, and at othertimes they are used as formal tutorial spaces - where lecturers post discussion questions and students respond.
Online discussions require a lot of the same skills as face-to-face discussions and the same principles (prepare, respond, etc.) apply. However, there are some distinct advantages and disadvantages associated with online discussions. You have time to consider your response. And, responses in written format may be easier to understand than spoken responses. However, it's much harder to gauge the tone or context someone's response - it may seem abrupt or rude, even though that wasn't their intention. We can't add inflection online and the communication takes place asynchronously rather than in real-time. So, you may have to make a little more effort to get to know people than you would in a face to face setting.
Despite these differences you will still need to prepare, listen (OK, read) attentively, observe how others participate, and practise (draft your response), you may want to take notes and you need to respond to others.
Make the most of the medium.
The biggest advantage of online discussions is that they are online. Provide a link to the article/video/paper that you saw which relates to your topic. This really spices up the discussions and allows you to make the most of the resources available to you on the web.
Whether you are interacting online or participating in face-to-face discussions in class, these tips will help you communicate effectively with your peers:
Prepare - Make sure you have done any relevant background reading and checked through tasks. Take notes and write down a few points or questions which you can bring up during a discussion. Bring notes with you, ask for clarification on concepts you don't understand and voice your responses. It's a lot easier to speak up if you have stuff prepared beforehand.
Listen - Practise your active listening (or reading) skills. Be attentive, focus on what is being said, how it's being said, and think about how it relates to the themes of the discussion. If you are a confident speaker, try not to dominate the discussion - voice your opinion and then give others the chance to respond. Don't interrupt people or disengage once you have finished speaking/typing.
Observe - Pay attention to how others participate. How do they enter into the discussion? How do they ask questions and respond to others? What works and what doesn't?
Practise - If you are uncomfortable speaking up in class, or joining in online discussions, then practice discussing the course materials with your classmates outside of tutorials. Practise listening and responding to what they say. Talk about the course materials, share ideas and get used to using the terminology and concepts from your classes, it will help you build the confidence you need to speak up in class/on forums.
Take notes - Jot down your thoughts whilst other are speaking, it will help you remember what they said and allow you to formulate a response once they have finished.
Respond - Responding to others is an essential component of any discussion. You can respond by asking someone to clarify something, you can comment on what was said, voice your own opinion on the topic, or express relationships you've noticed between what someone has said and content from your course materials. Be courteous when you respond (even if you disagree) and provide a full response. If you agree with something someone has said, or a point from one of the readings, then don't just say "I agree" explain why you agree.
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