Strategies for collaborating online and getting the most out of discussions and webinars.
Discussion boards and webinars provide an interactive learning environment where you can clarify and extend what you learn from subject material and develop your communication skills.
As with face-to- face communication, it’s important to find a way to express your views and question those of others in a respectful way, as this helps to develop your understanding and critical thinking.
Find out if your participation in online forums and webinars is compulsory, and if so, how it will be assessed. For discussion forums, find out the required frequency, due date, length, focus and tone of posts.
The more preparation you do, the more actively you’ll be able to participate. There will usually be prescribed and/or recommended readings to be completed before you engage in online discussion.
When you’re reading:
- Think about how the reading relates to the topic of the discussion and the main points presented in the subject materials.
- Think about similarities or differences between the texts and try to form your own opinions.
- Note down any questions and comments you have.
The easiest way to participate is often to add to the existing discussion. You can do this in a range of ways.
Listen to Unimelb students give their advice about how to actively participate in online forums. You can apply these strategies to participating in online meetings and webinars too.
Consider your audience
Online communication can be challenging, as you don’t have the same range of verbal and visual cues (voice, body language etc.) to contextualise your words and check your message was received as intended. Below are some strategies to help you communicate effectively and avoid misunderstandings.
Use simple language
Use words that most people would know and that are easily understand. Your ideas can be complex, but your language shouldn’t be. For example:
- Tried rather than endeavoured
- Use rather than utilise
- Explain rather than elucidate
Relate your comments directly to particular ideas or posts and avoid words that are vague or have multiple meanings.
Compare the specificity of the two examples below.
One: “Great point: it really highlights the issues we’ve discussed”.
Two: “Great example for this week’s topic on reducing social isolation in elderly populations, Lee. Using avatars to help them connect with each other is a really interesting idea.”
Example Two is much clearer as it specifies what in particular was good (the example), and what the topic was (reducing social isolation in elderly populations). Using Lee’s name also personalises the entry, helping others to know exactly whose post you are referring to.
Wordy sentences and posts can be difficult to read. Try:
Replacing longer phrases with single words
- Information provided by responses indicates... [5 words]
- Responses indicate... [2 words]
Using strong verbs, rather than nouns
- This paper provides an evaluation of Gaspar’s framework. [8 words]
- This paper evaluates Gaspar’s framework [4 words]
Using active, rather than passive, voice
- An analysis of user behaviour was conducted. [7 words]
- We analysed user behaviour. [4 words]
Be coherent and cohesive
Structure your response logically and consider the flow between ideas and posts carefully.
- Refer to other writers by name
- Repeat the point you’re linking back to
- Highlight the relationships between ideas.
Allow opportunity for interaction
Although your response should be well thought out, it should also allow and encourage others to respond. If it is uninteresting, or allows little room for questioning or comment, then you’re unlikely to spark an interesting debate.
There are some clear differences between online and face-to-face communication, but our behaviours should show a similar level of respect. Behave the same way online as you would face-to-face.
- Be careful with humour and sarcasm.
- Respect others’ points of view, even if you don’t agree.
- Be aware of cultural differences, without making over- generalisations.
- Be polite; acknowledge responses to your posts and respond to others’ posts.
- Never post in anger – if you’re upset with something someone has written, take some time to think about how you can respond objectively, without emotion.
Nervous about contributing?
It’s normal to feel a little nervous about publishing your thoughts and ideas for all to see, especially if you’re still grappling with new ideas and concepts. Just remember that while it might sound cliché, there are no silly questions.
Try to post something early on, even if it’s simply to introduce yourself or agree with something someone else has posted. The longer you wait to post, the harder it will get. As discussions build, you might find that the ideas become more nuanced and complex, making it harder to contribute something new or interesting.
A strategy is to log in early each week with one or two comments or questions already prepared to contribute to the topic. As you become more confident you can be more spontaneous with your comments.
- Online learning module
Effective group work strategies
Collaboration and teamwork can be challenging but is an effective and often necessary approach to problem solving.
- Quick read
Motivation and online study
Strategies to help you maintain focus and direction.
- Quick read
Note taking and synthesising
Tips to help you take notes and synthesise ideas from readings efficiently and effectively.
Looking for one-on-one advice?
Get tailored advice from an Academic Skills adviser by booking an individual appointment, or get quick advice from one of our Academic Writing Tutors in our online drop-in sessions.