3.5 Social communication

Socialising is a key stage of being an affiliated guide. It involves helping learners to get to know each other, develop mutual respect and establish a community, by being a constant friendly presence. You will know from Activity 6 that patterns of participation and behaviour vary enormously.

The majority of the communication you will experience as an affiliated guide will be asynchronous in nature. This has the advantage of enabling learners to post messages at any time of the day or night. However, online conversations can lack the energy of face-to-face groups, and learners may dislike the lack of spontaneity or the lack of responsiveness to messages they have posted. They may also struggle to understand the silences and feel a sense of isolation.

Despite these problems, there are ways of communicating effectively in an online environment. The following rules, adapted from Sener Knowledge LLC [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , are a helpful starting point.

Rule 1: Write well

It is important to remember that writing is the main form of communication online and so it is important to write clearly and succinctly. Some ways of achieving this are as follows:

  • Be short, concise and organised; avoid long, rambling or confusing messages. If you have something lengthy to say, consider writing a separate document (e.g. in Word) that you can attach to a brief covering message.
  • Take the time to edit your messages. If you need to think before you send, then you can save a draft of your message. Before sending an angry message, stop and take a break, and consider whether a milder tone would be more appropriate.
  • Remember, IF YOU WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS or use exclamation marks !!!!!! IT WILL COME OVER AS SHOUTING. You may be surprised at the responses you receive.
  • Neatness, proper grammar and spelling do matter, although as a reader you should also make allowances for others’ typing skills.
  • Think carefully about the number of questions you pose, or leading learners off at a tangent. If the discussion has veered off slightly, encourage learners back to the topic in hand by asking a direct question relating to the subject, or by commenting on one of their previous posts.

Rule 2: Follow proper ‘netiquette’

Netiquette simply refers to online etiquette or the practice of courtesy and respect in an online environment. Here is some guidance:

  • DON’T say anything online that you wouldn’t be willing to say to someone face-to-face.
  • DON’T say highly negative, insulting or disparaging things about your fellow learners or their views online (this practice, called ‘flaming’, is viewed as very poor behaviour).
  • DO state your views confidently but kindly, including your differences of opinion.
  • DO give someone the benefit of the doubt if you’re unsure about the meaning or tone of a comment.
  • DO make allowances for others typing skills when reading posts. DON’T judge the quality of a post by the quality of the typing.
  • DO consider using emoticons as a way of showing your mood or facial expression as these can enhance learners’ understanding of your posts. (See Wikipedia’s list of emoticons alongside their meaning.) You could also describe your mood in brackets, for example ‘(I’m being serious)’.
  • DO keep a sense of humour – remember that online learning will be new and unfamiliar territory to many on the course.
  • DO consider using pictures or audio files. They can be a great way to initiate discussion and reflection, and can sometimes be worth a paragraph of text.
  • DON’T be over-familiar. Although your role as an affiliated guide is to be an informal, friendly presence – there is a limit.

Rule 3: Use your social presence

‘Social presence’ refers to the way that individuals represent themselves in their online environment and how learners relate to each other. Social presence is therefore hugely important in helping people communicate effectively. There are three ways in which a person’s social presence can be demonstrated online:

  1. affective – communicate emotion, values, attitudes or beliefs through language
  2. interactive – respond and interact directly with others’ messages
  3. cohesive – use language as behaviour designed to reinforce the group’s sense of itself as a learning community.

Table 5, again adapted from Sener Knowledge LLC, provides instances and examples of ways in which you can use your social presence online.

Table 5 Social presence online

Strategy Example
Affective Use descriptive words that indicate feeling I really like what you've done.
Express personal values, beliefs and attitudes

I personally think that ...

In my opinion ...

Use non-verbal features of language to convey emotion, such as punctuation or emoticons

Lol!

:-)

Interactive Acknowledge others’ messages by referring to them directly

I like the way you used that example ...

I thought that Maria’s comment was spot on.

Agree or disagree with others’ messages

I disagree ...

I don’t share that opinion.

Offer praise, encouragement or reinforcement to others

That’s excellent!

This is a really good discussion.

Invite responses by asking questions

Does anyone else have an opinion on this?

How does this relate to your individual situations?

Cohesive Address or refer to others by name That’s interesting, Robert.
Use greetings and closure at the beginning and end of messages

Hello everyone!

Bye.

Refer to the group as ‘we’, ‘ours’ We can’t all agree on this.
Reflect on the forum itself We’ve had a really interesting discussion today.

3.4 Patterns of participation

3.6 Developing effective communication