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How to Stand Out in Your Online Class Discussions

Nov 13, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Participation can be a big part of your grade in a traditional classroom—how often you raise your hand, share in class discussions, ask questions, and contribute verbally in class. Online classes don’t expect you to participate in person, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t graded on your participation. Many professors look at student contributions to class forums and online discussions to determine their participation grade.

That means you’ll be interacting with your fellow students a lot online. If you want to make a good impression on your professor and peers in the forums—and land a good participation grade—here are a few tips.

Ask questions that are open-ended

Don’t just chip in on other people’s topics. Start conversations of your own, and ask open-ended questions that encourage discussion. Avoid yes-or-no questions, and pay attention to the concerns and confusions other students have if you’re not sure what to ask on your own.

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know

Chances are if you don’t know something, some of the other students won’t either—and will be relieved if you ask the question so they don’t have to. Admitting you don’t know something—but being willing to talk to other people in working out an answer—will make you look like a leader in the discussion forums.

Care about your writing

Not everyone is an excellent writer. You don’t have to be, but you do have to care about your grammar and spelling in online forums—a lot. That’s because your peers and professor will be interacting with you and getting to know you primarily through your writing on these platforms. Poor spelling and grammar makes you look bad in real life as well, but especially in online discussion forums and classes.

Stay relevant

It’s great if you find that some of your fellow students share interests with you outside of class. However, discussions in online class forums should stay on topic. Don’t go off on tangents; it will make you look unfocused and not serious about the topic. Stay focused on the issues you’re studying in class, and take conversations about non-class topics to a different space.

Don’t get long-winded

It’s great if you have a lot to say. But really long posts can be off-putting, especially if you don’t use paragraph breaks. Try to keep your posts on the succinct side while still making a valuable contribution to the discussion. Really long posts can sometimes make you look like you’re trying to dominate the conversation.

Stay tolerant

The Internet has been around long enough that some people have picked up bad habits—such as being overly negative or angry in online forums. It’s easy to use the relative anonymity of the online space to say things you would never say in real life to someone else. That sort of thing doesn’t fly in online class forums, however. Keep your discussions cordial, avoid using all capital letters, stay out of negative discussions, and never insult anyone. In addition, keep an open mind to people who have opinions that are different than yours.

Online discussion boards can be a great learning tool. But many users are accustomed to being more casual in online discussion than they would be in real life, and that’s a mistake. Avoid overly casual language and text-speak, always treat your fellow students courteously, and pay attention to grammar, spelling, and general writing ability. In addition, contribute to the discussion by asking open-ended questions and sharing your knowledge when you can. Hopefully, you’ll be able to make a good impression online—and ace the participation portion of your accredited online degree program.



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