3.2 ASynchronous Communication Tools

3.2.1 Email

Email is the oldest collaboration tool and the most common method for communication in online learning. Private messages can be sent between the instructor and the student. It is reliable, inexpensive, and the most well-known. Email is often overlooked as a collaboration mechanism in favor of flashier, more expensive, and less reliable mechanisms. 

Advantages: Email requires minimal technical skills, and it allows private communication between the instructor and student. Broadcasts for urgent class announcements can be sent via email. Assignments can be easily attached, and instructors can provide almost immediate feedback to students. 

Disadvantages: Students may begin to rely too heavily on the instructor for one-on-one instruction or for information about assignments and material already available on the course site. Therefore, it is important to set guidelines for email use within the course syllabus. In addition, set reasonable expectations for when you will respond to emails, for example within 24-48 hours.

Uses: Email can be used for announcements, due dates, schedule changes, modification to an assignment, or to address possible misconceptions. Use private email for feedback on individual assignments and projects, and to answer student questions that are of a personal nature such as a family crisis, a grade concern, or conduct in a discussion forum.

3.2.2 Discussion boards/forums

Discussion boards or forums are an asynchronous collaboration tool and a key element in learning management systems. Through discussion boards, the student interacts with the course content, the instructor, and other students. Generally, the instructor posts a topic or thread for discussion, and the student replies to the instructor and responds to other student postings. Postings are archived allowing the professor to track participation and quality of student contributions. 

Advantages: Students reluctant to speak up in face-to-face discussions can find their voice in online discussions. Students have time to reflect upon and research their responses providing higher quality online discussions. 

Disadvantages: Some students fail to participate in online discussions. Grading online discussions can be time consuming and challenging for the online instructor. Also, if guidelines for discussion postings are not clear, student responses may be trivial not furthering the discussion.

Guidelines: Encourage participation and set clear guidelines for discussions such as what accounts for quality and quantity. Include online discussion participation as a percentage of the overall grade. Suggested guidelines to provide the student are below:

Discussion Guidelines

  • Do the appropriate preparation. Complete reading and lesson activities before you join the discussion.
  • Keep your messages short and brief – one to two paragraphs is adequate. Postings should be free of misspellings and grammatical errors.
  • Take time to organize your thoughts before posting. Provide only the most essential information in your post. If people want further details, they’ll ask for them in a reply.
  • Avoid discussion posts that offer little more than “I agree.” Each discussion posting should offer some new content, aimed to foster continued exploration of the topic.
  • When replying to a message, please use the same “subject” line so that people will find it easy to follow the “thread” of a topic. Once you read the discussion topic, please post your ideas using “Reply” button.
  • Respect others’ ideas and opinions. Feel free to disagree, but express your disagreement in a respectful manner.
  • Do not wait until the last minute to post your opinion.

Uses: Effective discussion boards are structured content discussions designed to pose insightful questions, inspire curiosity, and incite discomfort.

Types of Discussion Boards:

Structured Content

Students will contribute to x number of asynchronous discussion topics throughout the semester regarding assigned reading and content. The instructor will pose the question, and students will respond thoughtfully to the posted questions and to student postings. Additionally, the student will pose questions that enhance the discussion.

Questions & Answers

Whenever students have questions or ideas about a topic, they can use the questions and answers discussion board to seek answers and input from their peers and the instructor. Students should be encouraged to answer questions posed by their classmates. The instructor may post answers to questions asked in private emails if they are of general interest to the class.

Student Lounge

Students can correspond with each other about the course or non-course related subjects.

3.2.3 WIKIs

Wikis are a Web-based tool that allows the instructor and students (many authors) to work on projects together, share resources, and collaborate. Wikis have become “an effective tool for generating and sharing large amounts of complex knowledge”. The most noteworthy feature of wikis is the open editing function to allow users to co-create information and knowledge, supporting a constructivist, learner-centered perspective. This feature allows wikis to be “communally constructed and owned”.

Advantages: Wikis are free. Wikis can include sound, images, and text. Access to a site can be controlled with a password. Very little training or technical skills are required to participate in a wiki allowing the learner to focus on the content. 

The ease and accessibility of the resource encourages wikis to be utilized for building common agendas, problem solving, brainstorming, and creating complex reference lists of hyperlinked information. In addition, the medium is ideal for creating group cohesiveness and commonly agreed definition or information sources among online communities.

Disadvantages: Some experts contend there is a lack of source credibility and accuracy of the wiki content. Educators contend wikis provide an opportunity for students to learn to decipher for themselves the relevancy and accuracy of information. With so many authors contributing to a wiki site, it can possibly become difficult to navigate. Students new to the wiki environment may accidentally delete the work of other students.

Uses: The valuable use of a wiki is group project work. Work within wikis must be authentic and problem-based. The intention should be to enhance critical thinking skills and work toward a common goal to solve complex problems. Because students may be lost when first working within a wiki, it is important to provide clear instructions and expectations. 

Below are suggestions for wiki etiquette:

  • Never post your personal information or information about someone else.
  • Write things you know to be correct using facts from research from reliable, credible sources. Make sure your information is accurate.
  • Ask an artist’s permission to post their photos, pictures or pieces of writing. Never use first and last names of people that could identify them in a photo or video.
  • Be courteous and be positive in your interactions with your peers.
  • Use breaks in your text and formatting elements to make the page easy to read and understand.
  • Be sure to follow the directions that are given for the assignment — be creative, but within the parameters set forth on the page.
  • Do not delete the work of others deliberately. Unless it is part of the editing process.
  • Keep it on topic – classroom oriented.