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Online Communication and Assessment

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Online communication and assessment
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Online communication

There are two types of online communication, synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous communication occurs at the same time but in different places. A telephone is an example of synchronous communication. Other examples include online chat applications or two-way web video like Skype, etc. You may be accustomed to using these tools to communicate with friends and family outside an educational setting.

PSU uses a synchronous meeting application called Elluminate, which opens inside the D2L framework. If your instructor schedules an Elluminate session you'll find the link in you top-left navigation bar.

Because synchronous communication involves being online during a specific time frame, your instructor will most likely inform you well in advance of any communication sessions. He or she may give you a question to consider in advance of any session or assign you to a small group for the purposes of the session. Your instructor may also open up the synchronous communication tool for less structured events such as online office hours or small group planning activities.

  • Asynchronous communication occurs at different times and in different places; the D2L Discussions tool is an example of asynchronous communication as is email or collaborative work shared in a course wiki or blog. In your online course, you may have one type of communication or both types.
  • Some good general guidelines for online communication are:
  • Read carefully - Because an online course relies so much on written material, many folks have difficulty resisting the impulse to merely skim Discussion postings. As this can lead to misunderstandings, it can be helpful to not only read carefully, but to read everything twice.
  • Use subject lines - Use subject lines in your messages to keep the flow going. Be sure to change the subject line if you are changing the direction of discussion.
  • Log on frequently - Be sure to check Discussions or Email every other day or a minimum of 3 days a week. In a course where the tool is being used, Discussion messages can build up and become overwhelming.
  • Think through ideas - In most online courses, it is essential for students to participate in meaningful as well as thoughtful ways. Many instructors encourage students to write discussion forum entries in word processing programs before submitting them.
  • Write meaningful responses - When communicating in Discussions, you might be tempted to respond to a message with "okay" or "I agree." This adds little to the conversation. Your instructor might also have a list of "discussion forum guidelines" which set expectations regarding the length, content, and proof required for your messages.
  • Be willing to speak up if a problem arises - The online environment prevents instructors from diagnosing student problems through paying attention to facial or body language; therefore, you should be more proactive in alerting instructors when you face frustrations or become confused.


Although you might be accustomed to using electronic communication such as text messaging and chat, communicating as part of a course involves a slightly different set of skills and conventions. These are commonly referred to as "netiquette."

A Brief Look at Netiquette

  • Avoid using all CAPS as it can give the impression that you are shouting. If you want to emphasize a point, use *asterisks* around a word.
  • Avoid personal attacks, otherwise known as "flaming." If you read a message that you suspect might be a personal attack, resist the temptation to fire off a response. Instead, you let your response sit before sending or request that your instructor resolve the situation.
  • If you disagree with a fellow student, describe your perspective clearly and politely rather than primarily criticizing his or her comments. Avoid any personal criticism or potentially offensive language.

Online assessment

Your instructor may employ a variety of assessment techniques in your online course. These techniques could include quizzes featuring multiple choice, short answer, calculated, matching and paragraph questions or written assignments.

Regardless of the method, there are some common best practices for preparing for online assessments. These include the following:

  • Remember to always keep a copy of the assignment that you submit to the instructor in case of computer failure. When you are preparing your assignments, remember to save your work on a regular basis.
  • Make sure you know what file format your instructor wants your work submitted in. A good default for word-processed documents is ".RTF" or "rich text format," which can be opened by most word processing applications.
  • If your instructor asks you to submit assignments through email, always send a copy to yourself. This allows you to determine whether the instructor has received your attachment or not. If you receive the message without attachments then your instructor will not have them either.
  • Review and maintain awareness of all the different materials in the course. This is especially relevant because online courses have many different materials including textbook readings, content modules, and presentations.
  • Carefully read the course syllabus and, if one is not provided by the instructor, organize your assignments into a schedule with clear deadlines.
  • Make sure that you clearly understand the assignment or test topic. Review this material ahead of time and email your instructor if you have any questions.
  • For tutorials on submitting assignments to the D2L Dropbox and how to view Grades in D2L, visit the Student D2L Help page.


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