Communicate Effectively

Policies and tips

college students using a computerIn the DL classroom, most communication takes place through writing. If your writing abilities are limited, you may need to take some additional writing classes before or as part of your learning experience.

Most communication between the student and the instructor is done by e-mail within the course. In most cases you will communicate with your fellow students via e-mail or through a discussion board within your course.

Some instructors will hold chat sessions during the term for online office hours or so that you and your fellow students can discuss class work online in real time.

You may also communicate with your instructor via the telephone or in person if the need should arise.

Discussion boards, e-mail, and chat make DL classes a truly interactive way to learn; often more interactive than participating in a traditional class.

This tutorial will help you communicate effectively using online tools.

College policies

You are responsible for following all policies in CCRI's Student Handbook, whether attending a class in person or online.  In particular, the code of conduct applies to online communications.

You are also responsible for following CCRI's Responsible Use of Information Technology policy.

Make sure you read and understand these policies, as violations are serious and could result in disciplinary action.

General communication strategies

In order to make a good impression on other class participants and to behave professionally, follow this advice for all written communication:

  • 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 aware that humor and sarcasm do not always come across well in writing.
  • Read messages carefully before responding. Be focused in your response.
  • Re-read your own posts and messages for potential sources of misunderstanding.


You might already be familiar with the general rules of netiquette from using social media. These are the rules of personal conduct that apply to all web-based communications. Here is a sampling of some of them:

  • Write meaningful subject lines for your email and discussion board contributions.
  • Be polite and respectful at all times.
  • Be tolerant of views expressed by others.
  • When reacting to a message, address the ideas and not the person.
  • Don't send commercial advertisements or forwarded messages to your classmates.
  • Using all capital letters in email is equivalent to shouting.

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 work and discussion boards

In your online course you might be required to complete an assignment with a group of students or discuss course topics using the discussion board. Follow this advice for successful group communications.

In general:

  • Prepare before the project or discussion by reading the text, reading or watching the lectures, and doing any preliminary assignments.
  • Give positive comments and praise whenever possible.
  • Constructive feedback should include references to the text, lecture, or other sources.
  • Suggest alternative ideas instead of simply disagreeing with another person.
  • 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.

In group work:

  • Provide additional contact information, such as a cell phone number or an alternate email address.
  • Check the discussion board every day. If possible, subscribe to the discussion board so you'll receive email updates when somebody posts.
  • 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

You should follow all of the general and netiquette suggestions above when communicating with your professor. In addition to those rules, following this advice will help you make a good impression and ensure that your communications are productive.

  • Be especially polite and formal in your messages to your professor.
  • Address your professor by his or her title, such as Professor or Dr.
  • Thank your professor for his or her time.
  • 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).
  • Remember that you might not receive a response for several days, so plan ahead with questions.

Communication tools

Discussion Boards

Many CCRI Online courses use a discussion board. The discussion board allows students and instructors to post and reply to messages. You can post and read messages when it is convenient for you rather than at a scheduled time. In some cases, you will be able to subscribe to the discussion board so that you will receive email when somebody has posted.

The discussion board groups 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 response is displayed for everyone else to see. Perhaps you are interested in something written by one of your classmates; you can post a message in response to your classmate. Don't be surprised if you discover responses to what you've written from several of your classmates!


Email is a great way to communicate at times that are convenient both for you and the recipient. You will probably use email to communicate with your instructor and classmates. Email does have its limitations and it takes some practice to use it well.

Some things to keep in mind about email:

  • Double check to whom you're sending email. It can be embarrassing when an email that you meant for one person ends up being read by others.
  • Use a meaningful subject line so your readers will have a clear idea of what your message is about.
  • Don't forward others' messages without asking first. While you should always write your email messages assuming others may see them, it is considered very rude to forward someone else's message without asking their permission.
  • Misunderstandings are more common with email than other communication methods.

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 a group discussion (use chats, discussion boards, or teleconferences).
  • When you're communicating with someone who doesn't read or respond to email regularly and you need an immediate response.
  • 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.


A chat session is like a classroom discussion because the instructor and students are all participating at the same time. But unlike a classroom discussion, you are all working in separate locations from your own computers.

As you can imagine, this can sometimes be a little confusing. You will not have time to contemplate what you're going to write, as with discussion boards and email. You will have to type quickly to express your thoughts as you're thinking them. Chats can also be hard to follow. Since each contribution displays when its writer finishes typing, it is easy for conversations to be out of order. Experienced instructors find ways to remedy this: for example, your instructor might ask students to indicate when they have something to say and then call on them so the conversation can be more easily followed. (For example, your instructor might ask you to type a particular character to indicate that you're "raising your hand.")

The advantage of chats is that they allow people in separate locations to communicate with one another in real time.

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Last Updated: 12/18/17