EPD - Best Practices - Communication
EPD supports several options for meeting and communicating, including messaging, email, and web/audio conferencing. There are also many other technologies available for real-time communication such as Google Hangouts, Skype, instant messenger, etc., that can be used for student group communication.
In our learning systems, users are able to see who else is online, and they can contact other online users in multiple ways. In the interest of each others' time and preferences, students and teams should become familiar with the range of communication tools and protocols.
Email vs. Discussion Forum Posts
Before sending a message, consider whether other students would gain from the information in the message. If so, post the message to an appropriate discussion forum within the learning management system. Otherwise, use email to send a message only to those who need to receive it.
Discussion forums enable students to share ideas, get feedback, and benefit from the knowledge and experiences of classmates and instructors. Use the following best practices and suggestions below to help make discussion as valuable as possible.
- Read - Read what others have posted before making contributions, check if anyone has asked it already and received a reply. Just as you wouldn’t repeat a topic of discussion right after it happened in real life, don’t do that in discussion boards either. Searching the forum first can help with this.
- Search - On a similar note, before asking a question, check the class FAQ, syllabus, etc., or search the internet to see if the answer is obvious or easy to find.
- Keep messages brief - usually no more than 1-3 paragraphs. If you write a long dissertation in response to a simple question, it’s unlikely that anyone will spend the time to read through it all.
- Use a text editor - For longer posts, it is a best practice to write your discussion post in a text editor such as notepad, and then copy-paste the message into the course site discussion forum. This can safeguard from accidentally losing your entire post if the website should timeout or become unresponsive.
- Keep forums organized - Help keep discussion forums organized in their respective forums and threads. Make sure you understand when to reply to an existing discussion thread, and when to start a new thread for a new topic or question. This makes the discussion easier to follow and navigate through.
- Be mindful - Course discussion forums are in some sense a writing assignment, so it is often good to be mindful and maintain a certain level of professionalism, courtesy, and respect for others' thoughts and time.
- Respectful debate is ok - Do not be afraid to politely disagree with someone or state a different opinion - that is what discussion is supposed to be about, but be professional and respectful.
- Focus on quality - Focus on writing a quality message not quantity. Messages that are motivating to read with added value and thoughts are a good use of time and are constructive pathways to learning.
- Use the notification or subscription tracking features to help manage time and attention.
- Stay on topic - For each particular discussion forum it is usually important to stay on topic, and note the purpose of the forum. There are forums for different purposes. Be mindful not to post irrelevant links, comments, thoughts, or pictures except in the appropriate forum.
- Grammar & Punctuation matter - Just like any assignment, composition and grammar are important for readability. Composing well written discussion posts, helps everyone be more efficient with their time in the forums. Also, run a spelling and grammar check before posting anything to the discussion forum. It only takes a minute, and can make the difference between sounding unprofessional and sounding knowledgeable.
- Be mindful of your tone - Be careful not to write anything that sounds angry or sarcastic, even as a joke. Without visual and verbal feedback, some peers might not realize you’re joking.
- Be forgiving - If your classmate makes a mistake, don’t badger him or her for it. Just let it go – it happens to the best of us.
- Jump in and help answer questions - Students are encouraged to jump in and help answer questions. If you do reply to a question from a classmate, make sure your answer is accurate, and provide a link or reference when at all possible to provide validity to your answer. For example, if you’re not 100% sure when the paper is due, do not guess, because this can just create more confusion.
- Consider summary posts - If you ask a question and many people respond, sometimes a summary post of all answers is a benefit to the whole class.
- Timeliness of posts matter - Most discussions are open on a weekly basis. try not to wait to post or reply until the last minute as this can inhibit the discussion. Thing of it as a group conversation that you all want to collectively foster for the best learning outcomes.
Use UW Email, filters, forwarding, or a mixture of these strategies to keep the emails related to your program and/or course separate from your work or personal email. For additional information, including information on filtering and forwarding. See 45416.
As a student of UW-Madison, your primary campus email address (UW Email) is the destination for official university correspondence. Students are responsible for all information sent to their University assigned WiscMail account. If a student chooses to forward their University email account, he or she is responsible for all information, including attachments, sent to any other email account.
Communicating in Real-time (synchronously) via Web Conferencing
In some of our online courses we create extra Blackboard Ultra rooms so students can collaborate or meet in real-time. These are modified Blackboard Ultra conference room that we call MeetNow Rooms. See Blackboard Ultra documentation for additional information on MeetNow Rooms. Students are also encouraged to use Google Hangouts, which is available through UW Google Apps account.
Learning Management System Communication Tools
Other Online Collaboration
Although several tools are provided for student use, there are many other real-time communication and collaboration tools available that students may choose to use for group or team collaboration. Below is a list of possible tools that students may decide to investigate and use, however, these tools are not officially used or supported in the program.