2 Starting out: introducing yourself on an online learning forum
Your first contribution to an online learning forum will probably be a post in which you introduce yourself to the other people. Participants often say that they find even this seemingly straightforward task quite daunting. One of the main reasons for this is worrying about trying to ‘sound right’. So, what should you say and how should you say it?
Note that what you do with other people on an online learning forum is referred to here as a ‘conversation’. There are some similarities between writing an introductory post and starting a conversation, even though you are typing on a keyboard or keypad, rather than talking face-to-face in real time. In the next activity you will consider what some of these similarities are.
Activity 1 Similarities between starting a post and a face-to-face conversation
Can you think of any similarities between starting a forum thread and starting a face-to-face conversation with someone you don’t know?
Similarities you thought of might include:
- you often start with a greeting
- someone starts off by saying something or writing a post
- someone replies
- you then continue by taking turns to reply to each other.
In Activity 1, you considered some of the similarities between starting a thread in a forum and starting a face-to-face conversation with someone you don’t know. In the next activity, you will consider what differences there are between them.
Activity 2 Differences between a forum post and a face-to-face conversation
What are some of the main differences between writing a forum post and having a face-to-face conversation?
Differences you thought of might include:
- you can’t ‘see’ who you are talking to
- you don’t share the same physical space as them
- you can’t read body language, such as facial gestures, which add meaning to language
- you have to wait for a response, unlike a spoken conversation where you usually get an immediate response
- you have no ‘clues’ about how long you might need to wait for a response
- the audience is much wider on a forum – you are always potentially talking to more than one person.
So, ‘getting it right’ can be more of a challenge when you are addressing people you don’t know and who are not sharing the same physical space as you. This is because of the absence of visual cues or body language clues to show you what people are thinking. Unlike face-to-face conversations, you don’t know when you might get a response, or even what that response is likely to be.
Not surprisingly, this aspect has been mentioned in research (Griffin and Roy, 2019). Figure 1 shows what two student respondents for that study said about using an online learning forum.
Student 1 identifies an important concern that many people have when writing on forums – a fear of saying ‘the wrong thing’. The good news is that these feelings will subside as your confidence grows over time, much in the same way that you become more relaxed with people the more times you meet them.
Student 2 identifies a further challenge: the audience is wider than just you and whoever you are replying to. Your tutor and other students or learners are also part of the conversation and may read your posts. This can make posting on a forum feel very ‘public’ – ‘open for everyone else to see’, as one student put it.
In the next section you will look at how you can make the most of having thinking time before you post on an online learning forum.