Search SiteSkip to Main Content

Communicating Effectively

college students using a computerIn an online class, most communication takes place through writing - emailing your instructor, participating in discussions, and completing assignments and tests.

Discussions allow you to hear the ideas of others and share yours, enriching the learning experience for all.

If your writing abilities are limited, you may need to take some additional writing classes before or as part of your learning experience or reach out to the Writing Center.

You may also communicate with your instructor via the telephone or in person if the need should arise. You may also participate in live (synchronous) sessions if offered.

College policies

Whether online or in the classroom, you are responsible for following all policies in CCRI's Student Handbook, including the code of conduct. You are also responsible for following CCRI's Responsible Use of Information Technology policy.


In general, your communication with your instructors and peers in online classes should be professional and clear. The following strategies will help you communicate your ideas as you intend.

  • Spell-check and grammar-check everything you write.
  • Use complete sentences.
  • Limit use of emoticons and Internet slang, particularly when communicating with your professor.
  • Be careful with humor and sarcasm as they do not always come across well in writing.
  • Re-read posts and messages carefully before responding.
  • Re-read your own posts and messages for potential sources of misunderstanding.

Respectful and Inclusive

There are expectations of personal conduct that apply to all web-based communications.

  • The subject lines for email and discussion board posts should communicate the content within (e.g. Examples of Placement in Internet Advertising).
  • Be polite and respectful at all times. Using all capital letters is equivalent to shouting.
  • When responding to a post, address the ideas and not the person.
  • Use class communication for coursework only, not personal or commercial communications.

Student-to-Student Tip

Take advantage of the discussion boards to interact with the professor and your peers on a regular basis. Don't be afraid to ask questions and share your opinions.

--Rebecca Cavanaugh

Group collaboration

You might be required to complete a task with a group of students or discuss course topics using the discussion board. Follow this advice for successful group communications.


The discussions group together messages that relate to the same topic in a threaded discussion. For example, if an instructor posts a question, then each student's reply is grouped with the original post.

Each person's contribution is displayed for everyone else to see.

  • Prepare to participate - review any relevant course materials before starting.
  • Check the discussion board several times a week to stay engaged. You may want to subscribe to discussion forums so you'll receive email updates when somebody posts.
  • Give positive comments and praise whenever possible.
  • Constructive feedback is based on the work (not person) and identifies specific concerns and actions to take. It is most effective when it includes references to the text, lecture, or other sources.
  • Suggest alternative ideas instead of simply disagreeing with another person. (Yes, and)
  • A personal touch can be friendly and will help you make connections with your fellow students.
  • Respond well to criticism. Be prepared to change your way of thinking or approaching a project or idea. Try to find compromise.
  • If the professor has provided a rubric for communications in the course, compare your communications to the rubric.
  • Determine as a group how you will communicate. Share a back-up communication option, such as a cell phone number or an alternate email address.
  • Respond to all messages that are directed to you as quickly as possible. It's okay to acknowledge with a simple message that says when you'll respond in detail.
  • If you become overwhelmed or have trouble with your part, let your team know so they can help.
  • When talking about responsibilities, restate them for clarity. You want to make sure everybody is on the same page.
  • Be clear about deadlines and when your group can expect to hear from you. Meet your deadlines.

Communicating with your professor

When reaching out to your professor, consider the following etiquette.

  • Be polite and formal
  • Address your professor by his or her title, such as Professor or Dr.
  • Thank your professor for his or her time.
  • Include the course name and number in the subject heading.
  • Ask your questions clearly and concisely and number them.
  • When asking about the text or content in the LMS, identify it precisely (for example, by page number if you're referencing the textbook).
  • Refer to the syllabus and/or communication policy to know when to reasonably expect a response.

Times to use the phone instead of email:

  • When security is necessary. A private conversation or phone call is more secure than email, which can be distributed to many people.
  • Email is best for the dissemination of facts. When you're dealing with an emotionally charged subject, you may want to use the phone instead.
  • When it's hard to discuss the topic in writing without being intimidating or rude.
  • When you have a series of questions for someone that will take a while to answer.