ASC logo


Woman pointing to computer screenParticipating in Online Discussions


It quickly becomes obvious that the online classroom differs from traditional classes in many ways. One of the most obvious is how communication occurs. To succeed in an online class, it is essential for students to know how to effectively communicate with classmates and instructors.

Links to sample discussion board expectations and netiquette appear at the end of this information.


What to Do When Participating in Online Discussions


Acknowledge that virtual communication is real and human.

You do not talk to a computer; rather you interact with your classmates and instructor through your written responses to posts on your course site. You create a sense of presence by personalizing your responses and reading those posted by your classmates. This dialog offsets the feeling of isolation, and the more you participate the more you will feel involved and motivated. 

Create mental pictures of classmates.

From what you say and how you say it, you develop your electronic personality, the person you become when you are interacting with others. You get to know your classmates and instructor in the same manner. It is from these written images that you "see" one another. While you should have fun, remember to keep your responses appropriate to the college classroom setting.

Take advantage of the online environment.

Since no one can see you, there are no stereotypes. Also, you are not affected by visual feedback or interruptions from your classmates. In addition, you won’t be intimidated by individuals who speak faster than you because you can take all the time you need. You can think your ideas through, reflect on the assigned topics and materials, and write and edit your responses before you post them for your class to read and consider.

woman yelling "Help!"


Be a "noisy learner," one who is active and creative and talkative.

You must not only "go to class" but also say something. Because your presence is not visible, if you don’t respond to discussion board posts, e-mail, or chat room dialog, it is as if you are not in class. This requirement differs greatly from the traditional classroom, where you can often just show up, sit down, and listen. Through your online discussions you gain new ideas from your peers, and they learn from you as well.

 Explore your comfort level.

How is this online environment different for you? Just as you would in a face-to-face (f2f) class, talk with your classmates and instructors about your fears and insecurities as well as your successes and surprises. The difference is that you are doing this through writing. As you share your feelings, you are also building a sense of community.

Be polite and respectful.

Sometimes students feel that because they are not visible, they can say whatever comes to mind. A topic or comment that is not applicable in a traditional classroom is not appropriate in an online discussion either. Remember you are talking with real people. Being polite and respectful is essential to create a productive and supportive learning environment. In this setting, you will feel valued by your classmates and instructor, and your work will have greater value as well.

Timing and word choice may cause communication problems.

Because there are lapses between the time posts and responses are made, it is important to ask a clarifying question if you are not sure what your classmate or instructor meant in a message. Conflicts may arise. This is not necessarily bad. However, resolution of conflict takes patience and work. 

Speak up if you are having problems.

The only way for your instructor to know you are having problems is if you say so. State exactly what is causing the difficulty so the solution quickly can be found. Exchanging messages with your classmates also is helpful. Someone else may understand something you do not, and you may have the information that someone else needs. When it’s your turn to explain something, you not only help a classmate but also reinforce your own knowledge of the subject.



How to Contribute to the Discussion of Ideas

Man working at computer

Before you respond...

  • Understand the expectations and norms for respectful interaction, as well as how to follow directions for completing the assigned tasks.

  • Think in paragraphs, not sentences! Avoid overly brief responses. You cannot deal with a complex issue in a quick sentence or two. You want to show that you have given a matter serious thought.

  • Read carefully what your classmates and instructor have posted.

  • Reflect on what you have learned and what impact this information has on your beliefs and behavior.

  • Mark or make notes of the points you wish to answer or discuss or question. Remember that a question is as valuable as an opinion in the course of discussion. It shows that you are trying to understand others and be understood.

  • Remember that your opinions must be backed up by your text, online readings, points made during discussions, library and Internet sources, experts in the topic, as well as your own experience.

    When you write your response...

  • Introduce your comments with a quick summary of the discussion or point, such as "As I understand it, …." Stating the central idea shows that you are trying to understand and what you have learned.

  • Be sure it is clear to the class and your instructor when you are summarizing and when you are giving your opinion. Examples: "According to the author of the text, …."; "I disagree with Robert’s statement that …I because…."

  • Keep your comments topic-related and to the point.

  • Use a variety of responses.

  • Elaborate upon, justify, or support ideas

  • Include quotes from your readings

  • Point out a classmate’s comment relates to one your made earlier.

  • Ask for feedback in relation to a point you state that might be controversial or misunderstood.

  • If the discussion topic is based on readings, follow these steps:

    • Study course lectures, articles, text readings, and linked materials.

    • Find the author’s central point and restate it in your own words.

    • Decide what your opinion or reaction is to what is stated.

    • Write your response, using examples and quotes for support.



 Reasons why your response may not be effective


    1. You didn't follow the directions for the assignment.
    2. You strayed off the topic.
    3. Your response was incomplete and did not include all information requested.
    4. Your response was not clear, accurate, precise, or relevant.
    5. Your response was too brief.


Man thinking about writing assignmment


WRITE: An Acronym for Communicating Online
from The Online Teaching Guide by Ken W. White and Bob H. Weight


W armth

Remember you are engaged in discussions with your classmates and instructor, not the computer.

R esponsiveness

Keep up with the discussion. If you were in a traditional class, it would seem strange to wait until the end of the week to give your thoughts about what other students have been discussing for days. You will quickly feel left out, and rightfully so!

I nquisitiveness

Defensiveness is reduced when people as questions rather than make statements. We also like to be asked our opinions as it makes us feel listened to and that our ideas are of value.

T entativeness

Your classmates and instructor will not be as quick to disagree with you if you say "It appears that…." rather than "It is…."

E mpathy

Put yourself in the role of your audience. How do you sound to others? How do you think they will respond to what you have said? Do you think anyone will be offended by your words or phrasing?



Samples of Professor Expectations for Discussion Board Responses

computer screen with books and notebook


Discussion Board Participation Rubric (University of Wisconsin)

Rubric for Asynchronous Discussion Participation (University of Delaware)

Guidelines for Students Participating in Online Discussions (Mt. San Jacinto College)

Participating in Online Discussions (Academy of Art University)

Basic Guide to Online Discussions pdf file will download (Utah State University)


Web Sites for Online Netiquette


Netiquette "Netiquette" is network etiquette, the do's and don'ts of online communication. Netiquette covers both common courtesy online and the informal "rules of the road" of cyberspace. This page provides links to both summary and detail information about Netiquette for your browsing pleasure.

Netiquette Learn the basics

Emoticons Smiley Dictionary

E-mail Replies and Etiquette A guide to how to more effectively communicate via e-mail


Go to Online Success

Go to Online Reading Strategies


ASC Return LogoClick ASC logo to return to Learning Links Contents.


This site was created and is maintained by Barbara J. Speidel, SWC Academic Success Center Coordinator. @ Barbara J. Speidel

The ASC logo was created by Andrew C. Rempt. @ Andrew C. Rempt

Southwestern College