Most online courses require interaction between classmates over a forum. In my POLI 101 course, we post on the Sakai forum up to three times a week. While some of the posts follow a simple question and answer format, they mainly consist of responses to other classmates’ posts.
There are a ton of benefits to forum posting. For starters, you have to think much more critically about your arguments, since you know twenty-five classmates are going to be scanning your words, trying to find something to critique. You can also digest the course content much easier this way; your classmates will point out things you would have never thought of on your own.
At the same time, forum posting can be dangerous. Like anything that’s online, we can be tempted to write things that we would never say in real life. We see this all the time on Facebook and Twitter. People take on an online alter ego that’s much more bold, aggressive, and distasteful than their actual selves.
If you don’t believe me, look at the “comments” section of any popular blog and you’ll find some of the most horrid and degrading words that humans can produce.
You would think that in an academic setting, this kind of talk gets weeded out. And indeed, forum posts are much less unpleasant than Twitter posts or a blog’s “comments” section.
Even still, online alter egos make some frequent appearances on forum posts. When you know that you’ll probably never see your online classmates, it’s tempting to be a little bolder, a little more aggressive, and a little less tasteful.
To avoid this, you just have to follow one, simple rule. If you follow this rule, you can avoid being that student whose posts sound more like a high-school kid’s Facebook rant than an educated thought. Here’s the rule:
“Post unto others as you would say unto their face.”
In other words, don’t post anything in your online course that you wouldn’t say to someone in a physical classroom setting. Following this rule will keep the words that inform your classmates and remove the words that are likely to cause harm.
So before you click “submit” on that next post, ask yourself if you would say it out loud in a class of twenty-five people. If the answer is no, don’t post it.