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Communicating online

Studying at Deakin means most of your studies will take place online. This guide has tips to help you communicate effectively and responsibly when using some common tools at Deakin.

People can’t see your body language through the screen. When you only have words to convey a message, tones become everything.

(Kent 2015: 112)

At Deakin, you have access to several digital tools that allow you to connect with students, lecturers and tutors. You will be communicating with people from many different backgrounds, including different nationalities, religions, cultures and ages. The University expects students to be respectful of others and not use words or share content that is offensive or inflammatory. If you disagree with someone's ideas, you are expected to discuss the ideas constructively rather than criticise or attack someone personally.

Find out more about your responsibilities as a student at Deakin:

Kent, G (2015) You are what you tweet: harness the power of Twitter to create a happier, healthier life; effective tools and daily habits for creating a positive social media experience, Star Stone Press, Culver City, CA.

Your unit site will have one or more discussion forums and much of your learning will take place on these forums. You may be asked to comment or post to a discussion forum as part of an assessment. These discussion forums are part of your formal studies so writing and responding to discussion posts with a large audience needs careful thought. Remember that all students and staff in your unit can read your posts so always use a respectful tone.

On unit discussion forums you can:

  • participate in learning and assessment activities
  • ask questions about what you are learning and your assessments
  • start a conversation by adding a new post related to a unit topic
  • build conversations by responding to other student’s ideas and opinions.

Tips for posting on a unit discussion forum

  • Keep posts on matters about your unit, e.g. lecture materials, readings or assessments. For personal matters that impact your studies, contact unit staff directly.
  • Scan posted items and check your unit guide for information before you post a question. You may find the answer to your question is already there.
  • Have a question that hasn’t already been posted? Ask it on the forum, rather than emailing your lecturer, so all students can benefit from your lecturer’s posted response.
  • When disagreeing with another students' ideas, do it in a constructive and compassionate manner. Consider: how would I expect another student to respond to my posts?
  • Privacy matters – don’t post personal information to discussion forums.

Writing a discussion post

  • For general posts about your unit – use a less formal writing style but still construct your post carefully to avoid misinterpretation. For example, don’t use text shortcuts as your audience may not understand your meaning.
  • For posting as part of an assessment – your lecturer may expect you to use a more formal, academic style of writing. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate how you are engaging with and understanding unit learning materials so try to provide a reflective, detailed response to the topic and to other students' posts.
  • For writing longer posts – try constructing your response in a document first. That way you can draft, edit and proofread for errors and tone before you post.
  • If you quote text from another source, remember to show where it came from. If it’s from the web, include the URL or provide a full reference.
Useful phrases

Be positive and encouraging

When you are responding to others, identify positives in what they have put forward before you offer constructive criticism.

  • I really like how Steve mentioned... because...
  • I found Laura’s perspective on... interesting because...
  • Great point Nara! I hadn’t thought about… in that way before.
Keep the discussion flowing respectfully

When disagreeing, rather than rejecting another person’s ideas, suggest alternatives.

  • Linda, thanks for mentioning... I wonder what you thought about the theory on...
  • Terrie, your comments about... challenged my ideas on… You have really made me question/re-evaluate my...
  • Interesting post Maja, I enjoyed reading it, however my interpretation of... was somewhat different to yours in that…

Useful links

  • Read the CloudDeakin guide to discussion posts and learn how to access, post and filter discussions.

You might need to contact a lecturer to discuss a matter that can’t be shared on a unit discussion forum. Always use your Deakin email account when communicating with staff, as it’s a good idea to keep all of your Deakin-related communications in one place.

Tips for emailing staff

Before emailing questions about assessment tasks, check your unit guide and unit discussion forums for details.

  • Clearly state the purpose of your email in the subject line. Using ‘Hi’ or ‘A question’ is too vague.
  • Sometimes you may want to email staff with a complaint. Remember the person receiving your email may not be able to fix your issue immediately. Be polite and respectful, just as you expect them to be with you.
Suggested email structure

Subject line:

  • Make it short and include unit code
Subject: EAD111 Trouble accessing database for Task 1

Use an appropriate term of address:

  • Greet in a formal manner (unless you are on first-name terms)
  • Use title and family name rather than first name if unsure
  • You can check staff title and name via the Deakin staff directory

Dear Dr Grossi,

Email body:

  • Short, clear and to the point
  • Include unit code and assessment task details
I am a student in EAD111 Digital Literacy: Finding, Evaluating and Interpreting Information. I am having trouble accessing the suggested database recommended for task 1. Several other students are also having the same issue and have posted this on the discussion forum. Are you able to assist?

Sign off:

  • Thank them
  • Include your full name and student ID

Thank you for your time,
Wes Howard

(Student number 123456)

Based on: Brick, J (2016) Academic culture: a student’s guide to studying at university, Palgrave Macmillan, South Yarra.

Useful links

Here are our top tips for online etiquette when participating in either an online classroom or video conferencing with a Deakin staff member or fellow students:

Before the online class/meeting

  • Add a profile image to the online platform to create a friendlier, more connected, environment.
  • Find a quiet space to participate in your online class or consultation.
  • Make sure you have a reliable internet connection.
  • Set up your device well before the class or meeting - familiarise yourself with the platform (e.g. Zoom) and run an audio check.

In the online class/meeting

  • Keep your video turned on, especially when speaking and if others have their videos on.
  • Position your camera so that your top half of your body is visible. Be aware of what is behind you and use either a simple neutral background or a virtual background.
  • Introduce yourself / say your name when speaking for the first time.
  • Mute your microphone whenever you are not speaking to avoid unwanted noise.
  • Avoid interrupting other speakers and make sure only one person speaks at a time. You can also ask questions via the chat feature to ask a question.

Useful links

Deakin uses a number of external social media platforms to communicate and engage with students. When using these platforms, it is important that you exercise the same professional etiquette as you would on any official University platform in accordance with Deakin’s student code of conduct. Learn more about Deakin’s social media procedure.

Tips for posting on social media

  • Be respectful and think before you post. Social media reaches a large audience within the University so remember that the same expectations, policies and laws apply as with other university platforms. Be aware of your own liability, as once you’ve posted something on social media, it’s out there on the public record, forever!
  • Consider who might read your post. When it comes to social media, the reality is that your posts may reach anyone in the wider community, including prospective employers who often use social media to research candidates. Consider what your posts say about you and the first impression you are giving.
  • Consider the effects of your posts on other people. Being part of a wider community means considering the impact of the content you post on social media, as it is out there for anyone to interpret. Take the time to consider the tone, context and possible interpretations of your post and think if it is something you would be comfortable saying face to face.
  • Protect your privacy. As with all open social media, be very careful not to share private or personal information and be sure that you understand the privacy settings for each of the platforms that you use.

Contact us

Book an appointment with a language and learning adviser; or First Nations students can book with the First Nations academic support links