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Building confidence in using online forums
Building confidence in using online forums

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4 Taking time to respond appropriately

In Activity 5, you considered how you might react to three different scenarios on an online learning forum. Next, you will consider three further scenarios and what may happen if you act too emotively, too quickly, or without thinking first. For example, if you don’t take a little time to think before you respond, you may lose a potential opportunity for learning or you may upset the person who posted, even if you didn’t intend to.

Activity 6 Thinking before responding

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

In each of the following three scenarios, choose which responses you think are most appropriate in each case. Which responses would cause least upset and possibly keep the conversation going? Use your knowledge of netiquette and the ideas that you have considered so far in this course to guide your responses.

Scenario 1

After reading a post, you are not sure what it means as it could be open to misinterpretation.

Do you:

  • a.Respond to the post and ask ‘What does this mean? It doesn’t make sense to me!!!’
  • b.Reply by posting a series of ‘confused’ and ‘laughing’ emojis.
  • c.Read the post a few more times and then reply by asking a question, such as, ‘That is an interesting point. Can you please clarify for me what this means in terms of …?’
  • d.Ignore it – you don’t have the time to bother with something you are unsure about.
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When posting online, always consider whether the meaning of what you are trying to convey is clear. By reading through your posts, you can identify whether there is any ambiguity. When reading a post that is unclear, consider that it might have been written in a hurry or that the person may not have realised that their post was open to misinterpretation.

By asking constructively for them to clarify in response (c), you are gaining additional insight to enhance your own understanding, extending the discussion and, importantly, not belittling their contribution. Response (c) is the considered response that requires a little thinking time. You are also providing an opportunity for other participants to respond, taking the conversation forward.

Scenario 2

You have discussed your ideas on a forum thread and a fellow participant has challenged your position, but in a friendly and constructive manner.

Do you:

  • a.Get offended as you spent a lot of time thinking about this. Now you are worried that you have got it wrong and been made to look silly.
  • b.Ignore the post. They are entitled to their opinion.
  • c.Reply immediately and thank them in a sarcastic tone for their contribution.
  • d.Read their post carefully and, in your reply, acknowledge their point of view. Respond to their comment by stating ‘I had considered this from a different angle because …. However, I can see that …’, or ‘That is a useful point but from reading … it seems that …’.
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It is easy to feel that any comment that challenges your ideas, however positive in tone, is personal and hence you can get offended or disengage from further discussion. By keeping an open mind, you can reflect on ‘different perspectives’ (University of Waterloo; Saint Paul University, no dates). You can also consider how this expands your understanding and facilitates your learning (response (d)) as well as the learning of other people in the group. Response (d) requires you to take a little time and decide not to take the challenge personally. In doing this, you provide an opportunity for a discussion to develop.

Scenario 3

You are part of a group of students who are responding to a task on a forum thread. One person is dominating the discussion. You feel that your and the others’ contribution is not being fully acknowledged.

Do you:

  • a.Get annoyed and reply rudely that they should stop and that you don’t care what they think.
  • b.Stop bothering to contribute as it is a waste of time
  • c.Read their posts again and explain that you appreciate their perspectives and:
  • d.ask whether they have also considered …
    • challenge their ideas and use evidence from the course to support your ideas
    • invite other members of the group to contribute.
  • e.Choose another post from a different student that is less well developed. Reply to that one directly, by asking an open question, to acknowledge their contribution and further the discussion overall
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There will always be participants who may be further ahead or have read more or want to contribute more to a forum. Contributing may help them to develop their own learning, so this is important for them. However, all students have a perspective on what they have studied, so all contributions are important. There may be several ways (responses (c) and (d)) in which you could help to support each other, so that all contributions are valued. In addition, most forums have moderators, who are usually experienced in working with people who sometimes dominate discussions. Moderators can advise you about how to respond in these situations, as well as intervene directly, if necessary.

In the next section, you will reflect on your learning during this course.