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"Back in my day we didn't need to have online courses, you just woke up and went to school. How can you learn online?" This is a quote from my aging father who went to college in the late 60s, before the world of online classes. No full time job, kids, or growing list of social commitments to pair with going to school full time. Just school, your friends, and a part-time job, possibly at the local soda shop. According to Gill Grinyer, solicitor in Bristol, England, "student life was a lot less stressful and competitive...we had grants and didn't have to worry about funding...I don't remember worrying about what I would do when I graduated. Today's students are much more worried about careers."
With university and college life becoming much more stressful, there is a need to be more efficient. Hence, the importance of online courses and the increasing number of people who are choosing to take online or distance education as opposed to sitting in class. The Wichita Cooperative for Educational Technology (WCET) published a study in 2016 that showing the increase in the number of students in the United States taking at least one online class from 1.6 million in 2002 to 5.8 million in 2014. No matter what method of communication that students find more comfortable online course are going to force them to have to communication and collaborate via email. The only face-to-face methods that could be used would be through applications like Skype or Facetime and while emotional cues could be picked up this doesn't mean that they will.
"Back in my day we didn't need to have online courses, you just woke up and went to school. How can you learn online?"
So, what now? You have to communicate more via email. You can respond at any time of the day and with new add-ons you can even set a timer for when your emails will be sent out. There is no need for extended greetings, because you can say hello and then get right to the point. However, these conveniences increase the chances of more controversy or miscommunication. According to Harvard Business Review, these miscommunications are due to the ease of tone and context to be misread, reactive instead of progressive responses, and prolonged debates. To avoid some of these potential destructors of working relationships, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to communicating during your online course assuming that there is no opportunity for face to face communication:
1. Don't be afraid to use emojis 😘
According to a study done at Western Michigan University, "Due to recognizing nonverbal expressions faster than verbal messages participants exposed to the emoji condition might have evaluated messages faster or more efficiently than those in the text-only and emoticon conditions." What we all enjoy about face to face communication is that it is easier to understand the emotions and sentiment of the person that we are communicating with. We can tell if they have had a good or bad day and if they are even in the mood to communicate. The use of emojis may lead to an increase in understand of the message that we are trying to communicate.
2. Sure, use sarcasm! (Don't use sarcasm.)
Sarcasm is best used during your favorite late night sitcom reruns, but can lead to some pretty awkward email conversations if used. Even if used lightheartedly, the use of sarcasm if taken in the wrong context can lead to a negative response by the recipient. Currently the average response time to someone between the ages of 20-35 years old is 16 minutes. While this doesn't seem like that long it is actually quite a long time for someone to read and then mill over what was said by you in an email. What did they mean? Were they really trying to say that? In the end, it is better to leave the sarcasm to Seinfeld.
3. "If.....then" statements
There are two main reasons you would send an email, either you want to receive information or you want to provide it. Whether you are giving or receiving, the use of if/then statements can be very useful in making your correspondence more efficient without the using multiple threads or having to go back and forth an inappropriate amount of times. An example may help. I would like to my assignment partner to take the next step in the assignment, but I am unsure if they are ready. So, I may send out the following email:
Hey Partner X,
I have just finished my portion of the assignment and was wondering if you were ready to move on to the next portion? If you are, then let me know when we could get started. If you are not, then let me know how I can help. 👍
In this case, I am efficiently and politely informing my partner that I have finished and am ready to continue. I have also given them two conditions that may be present and instruction of what I need in either condition.
In the end, it is better to leave the sarcasm to Seinfeld.
4. Revise and Review
I have sent out a number of emails without rereading (still guilty of this) and in the end had to explain what I really meant as well as apologize for the confusion. While it is easy to point the finger at the other person for taking the email the wrong way I am the one who sent the email in the first place. Try your best to take the time to read over the email you are going to send at least twice. Once in the way that you meant for it to be taken to check for grammar or mistakes and the second should be in a critical way to assume what parts of your email could be taken the wrong way. This will help you make sure that you are clear and polite in your email.
From misunderstanding and miscommunications to sarcasm and sentiment, there are a number of different ways that communicating by email during your online course can go wrong. My personal advice, assume the other person meant what they said in the most positive way possible. If all else fails and you have had to reread an email numerous times then it may not be worth sending.
Beattie, A (2017). Interpersonal Impressions of Emoji Use in Computer-Mediated Decision Making. Retrieved from Western Michigan University website: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1920&context=masters_theses
Blumenthal, A. (2015). Why Haven’t They Replied Yet. Retrieved from USC Viterbi School of Engineering website: https://viterbi.usc.edu/news/news/2015/why-hasn-t.htm
Lightfoot, L. (2016, June 24). The Student Experience - Then and Now. Retrieved from the Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/24/has-university-life-changed-student-experience-past-present-parents-vox-pops
Poulin, R. and Straut, T. (2016). WCET Distance Education Enrollment Report 2016. Retrieved from WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies website: http://wcet.wiche.edu/initiatives/research/WCET-Distance-Education-Enrollment-Report-2016
Tjan, A. (2011). Don’t Send That Email. Pick up the Phone! Retrieved from Harvard Business Review website: https://hbr.org/2011/11/dont-send-that-email-pick-up-t.html