Q&A: Communicating in an online classroom

Answer: Yes, it is important to remember that a virtual classroom is still a classroom. Making sure to communicate in a respectful and "appropriate tone".

When we are communicating online, we are missing our other senses that allow us to interrupt what others are saying. In person, we pay attention to the other person's facial expressions, voice tone and body movement ( i.e. hand gestures, posture, etc.). However, online, all we have are the words on the screen. Here are some examples of the tone expected in an online classroom.

1. Discussion forums

Just like in a face-to-face class, students are encouraged to discuss and debate relative topics. Often, a topic or comment may be taken or responded to, personally. In doing so, someone may get offended.

If you are responding to a peer because you disagree with their opinion or because you feel offended by their comment, it's important you have an appropriate tone. For example, "I appreciate your response to my post, but I disagree. In my experience….." If someone takes offense to your post, an appropriate response is "Thank you for your response. I wasn't trying to offend anyone and I apologize. I'm only going off of my own experiences…"

Responding this way allows others to realize you are being genuine and attentive to their situation.

2. Groups and team assignments

Group work is often a large part of the online learning environment. It's a great way for students to engage with one another and get substantial peer time. While group work often has positive results, the process runs smoother when all individuals communicate efficiently and respectfully; follow through with their part; and adhere to the deadlines and/or due dates. When this doesn't happen, I encourage students to respond with an appropriate tone.

For example "Bill, I see that you haven't submitted your paragraph and it was due yesterday. I hope everything is okay. Please get back with the team as soon as possible to let us know when you will be submitting your part. Thanks."

I hope these examples are helpful. Communicating online requires a little more sensitivity and effort, on everyone's part.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for nearly four decades. Her clients have included chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations, units of local and county municipal governments, state and federal government agencies, school districts and colleges, social and human service agencies, hospitals, fire departments, service associations, and Fortune 500 corporations. Dr. Browning has assisted clients and workshop participants throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $250 million. Dr. Browning is the author of over 37 grants-related publications, including Grant Writing For Dummies", Grant Writing for Educators, How to Become a Grant Writing Consultant, Faith-Based Grants: Aligning Your Church to Receive Abundance, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals. She holds degrees in Organizational Development, Public Administration, and Business Administration. Dr. Browning is a grant writing course developer and online facilitator for Ed2Go.com; former faculty member at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management and a current member of the American Association of Grant Professionals. She is CEO of Bev Browning & Associates (BBA, Inc.); Founder and Director of the Grant Writing Training, and most recently, the new Vice President for Grants Professional Services at eCivis Inc. (www.ecivis.com)