Online Education Etiquette Basics

Ah, I still remember when Mrs. Pepper shared with a group of young 6th graders the proper way to treat members of the other sex. It included things like opening the door for girls, letting them go first in line and such. We also learned table manners; how to use our utensils properly, where they are placed when setting the table, how to ask to be excused, & where to put our napkins and where not to put our elbows. There are many social norms that we keep in order to make things run more smoothly. Imagine if everyone drove on whatever side of the road they wanted. Having a set side gives me some comfort as you share mutual expectations with other drivers. Similarly, when you spend time on the internet interacting with other it is good to have social norms to make your experiences safe and enjoyable. Here are a few etiquette basics for online education.

All Caps. I know that some people are much more sensitive about this than I am. But it just boils down to making it as simple as possible for people to understand your message. Reading even a sentence in all caps is not what people are used to and thus it is harder for them to follow along. Some even interpret this as shouting. The same rule can also be applied to special cursive or fancy fonts.

Don’t forget to say please. Just because you’re behind a computer doesn’t mean that you should forget what your mother taught you about saying please and thank you. It’s important as ever and received well because many forget to do it. In general use kind language and you’ll have a much better go online.

Remember to address those to whom you are speaking and to sign your name. This is a pretty formal way of communicating and most emails should still maintain this convention. If you are in a chat then you don’t need to sign your name each time, but if you’re in a group chat be sure to address to whom you are speaking.

I learned the hard way that what you THINK you type and what you ACTUALLY type may not be the same thing. Often when you are typing fast you can have mistakes appear quite by accident, leaving out words that you thought, misspelling words and such. Most of the time others will know what you mean, but one time I left a not out of a text message and it changed the whole meaning of what I intended. If people lash out, maybe you should reread what you had sent them to see if it was what you meant to send.

Cut people a little slack. There is always room for giving people a break. When someone joins in on a group discussion after a hard day’s work the last thing they want to hear is how you think they’re a lazy bum. Keep the object of getting along in mind and remember often how you like to be treated. It’s not just some old saying, but seriously, the Golden Rule is still relevant for a very good reason, when we think of ourselves too much it goes to our heads.

Remember to check emails to make sure you’re sending them to the right “John”, that you included a descriptive subject line and that you’ve attached any documents that you refer to in the email. If you use Google’s Gmail you may try some of their “Lab” functionality. One will ask you if you meant to attach something if you mention an attachment in your email while another let’s you know you’re sending an email without a subject line. A recent one I tried let me double check the email address when I have more than one person with the same name in my address book. Handy!

Addressing Group Problems with Your Online University Instructor

In the course of your online university work you are bound to have some problems arise from someone in your group not pulling their weight or being so hard to work with that nothing is getting accomplished. It may not be in your first semester or even your second, but you are likely to have one sometime. It may be you! J After doing your best to resolve the situation amicably within the group you may need to take the matter to your instructor. You don’t need to worry about tattling or anything. Your professor will be able to handle the matter professionally and with tact. Here is some advice on how to bring the issue up with him or her if the need arises.

When you contact your professor do so discretely. You’re not trying to keep things secret, but it may help you to not blow things out of proportion. Your professor may know something about the situation that may shed light upon the situation. A simple private communication that shares your concern can do much.

Only share with your instructor the behaviors, not your interpretation of them. It’s no good to try and interpret whether or not the behavior of another student means anything about your worth, it doesn’t. Just share what has been going on and how it’s affecting you and the group. This will leave out any additional bias that the teacher can do without in order to handle the situation.

Keep a kind tone. It’s important for your professor to be able to see that you’re not the one that’s hard to get along with. Complaining about the other person makes it difficult to see past your hurt feelings and get to the issue at hand. The point is not the character of the other student, it’s getting the project accomplished.

Think ahead about how you’ll proceed if the other student is taken off your group. Present to your instructor your idea of what this looks like. It shows that you really are concerned about completing the project and that you wish no animosity on the student that’s presenting a barrier to your group achieving that.

Ask if it’s alright to go ahead with your other idea and if you should include the other student or not in this plan. This will give your processor the chance to give you the thumbs up or to have you hold off until he or she can talk to the fellow student about their lack of participation or behavior in the group.

If you have been copying your professor on your group correspondence or if you have been organizing the project via an online forum, the problem may already be apparent to your professor. If not, the above are some ideas to help you successfully share the problem with him or her to work towards a speedy solution. The sooner you act the quicker things can get resolved. Remember too, always do your best to solve the problem within the group before escalating it to your professor.

Good luck with your online university group work. Not all of it will be fun, but you’ll learn a lot by addressing problems respectfully and maturely.

Dealing with Dead Weight in Your Online College Class Groups

Did you ever know a friend with an uncle Joe that would come over, eat all your friend’s food, sleep on the couch, play video games and refuse to look for a job or take on any responsibility beyond putting the pillows back on the couch in the morning after he woke up?

We’ve all some across people we felt were leeching off of others. What may have started as a friendly offer to help someone in need can occasionally take the form of entitlement. A lack of work ethic is not the only reason that someone may join a group in your online college class and fail to pull his or her own weight. But whatever the reason you need to learn to handle such situations so as to not let someone else keep you from accomplishing what you set out to do.

In my experience listlessness or slacking off happens most when there is not clarity and unity in a group. One of these issues deals with organization and the other deals with emotional cohesion. Some come to the table with the idea that it’s about all business and often get put with those who need more of an emotional connection with those with whom they are working. They may come to the group and assume the role of leader, determining the direction of the group, but if everyone has not bought into the idea themselves the group support of the project may be in for a bumpy ride.

Either extreme in personality can be problematic. The business minded individual can leave people not wanting to participate and the emotional individual can spend all their time developing relationships and not getting any work done. Keep it in your head that relationships aren’t incidental to your group work, but essential; and also that teamwork isn’t the only goal of your group getting together, you have a task to accomplish and it won’t help you to be united in going out for ice cream if you don’t get your work done.

One key to navigating the sometimes turbulent waters of an online college group is communication. We all grow up in different households with different communication styles. Some have learned to be highly sensitive to an agitated adult such that they instinctively react when they feel some sort of tension. Others never shared feelings growing up and are more likely to bottle feelings and thoughts if it means confrontation. Knowing this can help you establish clear communication between everyone in an online college class group.

For example, communicating with the group in small and simple ways lets them know when you are going to do things and when you have to duck out. It may be apparent to you that something else needs to take priority, but in not letting the group know where you are at in terms of confidence in the direction of the project, doubt in your ability to achieve your assumed role or anything else leaves them open to assuming what’s in your head. If you are feeling something, share it. Keeping it in will only leave people guessing as to what you are thinking. Also make it a habit of asking others what they think and feel about ideas you present or how the group is progressing.

These are some ideas to help those who are starting to get behind in group work. If your communication with them has been clear and they still are not meeting obligations it’s time to get your online class instructor involved (you may already have been involving him on the progress and he or she may have naturally seen that one was not pulling their weight). Always give the benefit of the doubt and be as understanding as you can, but don’t jeopardize your own class success because someone is choosing not to participate. Good luck!

Conflict Resolution for Online College Groups

In the course of everyone’s interaction with others, there will come times when something arises between parties that threaten to destroy the cohesion of the relationship. In some cases you may just choose to let it go and move on. There are other times when the value of the relationship is paramount to accomplishing some of your goals. Such is the case with members from your online college groups. Maintaining harmony between group members ensures that your project can roll forward more smoothly and with the greatest benefit for all.

One of the greatest lessons I am learning over and over again is that people need to feel understood. Sometimes it has nothing to do with others accepting the validity of an idea, but rather just being heard. The principle taught by Steven Covey in his landmark book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is paramount when seeking to prevent conflict before it even begins: Seek first to understand and then be understood. This kind of approach is one that is not often experienced in interpersonal relationships.

How often do you see one person just waiting to jump in while another is sharing something with them? How often do you do it yourself? The next time you are in a conversation, make sure you understand the other person before presenting your point, it may just change your mind. To be sure you heard correctly what the other was saying try restating what you heard. This gives them to accept or rephrase their point.

Even when trying to understand others there will arise misunderstandings or disagreements. If the disagreement is about what topic your group is going to select, you may present the best ideas to your professor to get some direction or feedback on it. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, ask the professor to choose a topic for you.

Always ask for clarification if you feel offended. Chances are not likely that someone meant to give offense in something they said. Respond politely by letting them know what message you got from their statement and follow with something that gives them the benefit of the doubt like, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean it that way.” Sometimes blatantly offensive things can be said in moments of stress. Do your best to diffuse things that you know aren’t related to your actual project. If something was said that deals with your role in the group, take some time before responding to consider the truthfulness of the statement. It may be offensive because it’s true. If you haven’t been working on the project and meeting deadlines there may be some frustration from others in the group, especially if their role is dependent upon something you promised to do. If you are going to apologize, make sure that you follow it up with a commitment to step it up. Don’t wait too long before responding if the message came in email, but don’t do it so quickly that you are still steaming.

One last thing about offense; if someone offended you in a public setting, don’t retaliate in public. You will be much more likely to resolve things if you don’t put them on the spot. Take them aside later (in an email or chat) and let them know how you feel. Be sure to let them know too that you want to work things out.

Emotions can get high in your online college group settings, but spend some time up front meeting and getting to know your group members, establishing and meeting expectations, and seeking first to understand before being understood. These skills coupled with a little patience and forgiveness can go a long way in maintaining harmony in your group and keeping you on task.

How to Collaborate with Your Online College Class Group

Collaboration in online college classes can be fun if you do it right. Setting times to meet throughout the course of your project, creating roles and assigning tasks are of course some the first steps, but after that you will want to use some tools that can make your work much easier. While group emails can be helpful, they can also get pretty messy. Same goes with forums. This may be good to nail down ideas in a free flowing setting, but actually collaborating on your project, this may get pretty hairy. Here are some tools to help you better manage your collaborative efforts for your online college class.

Although it’s still in its early stages, Google Docs can be a great way to collaborate on a paper or presentation. Simply go to docs.google.com and have someone start a word document, creating sections for each student’s assignment. This will give each person a specific place to type out their contribution without getting it mixed up with everyone else’s. Once they have created it, they can invite contributors to the document. You may also have them give access to your professor if they’re open to reviewing preliminary drafts of the document as you go along. All you need is the email address of those you wish to invite to both see and edit the document. It will be best to let the professor know when you’d like to have him or her view the document so they don’t waste time reviewing something that isn’t ready to be reviewed.

If you are editing the document while others in your online college class are, you will see the changes appear as they make them. This can be kind of fun. The best way to add your work to a community document like this is to first create it on your own computer, save it and then add it. There are occasional hiccups with Google Docs and it can be frustrating to lose your work.

Another possibility is to use a wiki tools such as Media Wiki. This solution is a little more complex and requires that someone in your group knows how to set one up. You may be given the option in your online course admin panel or you may use a free version at sites.Google.com. It may not be worth the learning curve, but if all in your group are tech savvy and used to this format, give it a shot. Wikis keep track of edit history, which can be a good thing.

These are some possibilities of 3rd party tools you can use for collaboration with your online college classmates, but make sure before you use them that the school you’re a part of doesn’t already have tools to accomplish the same things. This may just be the case. They may even be more suited to fit your needs. If they fall short in one way or another however, take some time to ask your professor for suggestions. Your fellow students may also have a few up their sleeve. Use what works with the least amount of hang-ups.

Good luck with your online college classes & in collaborating your group members.

Meeting Tips for Online College Groups

There’s a phrase that applies to group dynamics that says “Too many cooks spoil the soup.” The more members you add to a group the more complex the dynamic becomes. It gets harder to meet everyone’s schedules and the input gets more diverse and sometimes creates a bottleneck to moving forward with any specific actionable items. Here are some tips to help groups work together in online college settings.

The first thing after introductions and setting group roles that you are going to want to do is to set up times that the group can touch bases on the progress of the project. All of your group work won’t be together, but set up a schedule that lets everyone check in regularly with their parts of the project. This is important and gets everyone on the same page as to how communication will occur. Setting the expectations up front & planning specific times to report milestones in the project, task completed and general progress.

Meeting together at the same time may not be an option, so you’ll have to do your best with what you are given. Many online college groups come together in forums set aside for the purpose of helping students collaborate. It’s a bit delayed, but if everyone commits to checking it daily you should still be able to continue with your project. To establish some clarity in a forum setting you can post a list of all the assignments and who’s taking what role and ask everybody to respond if they agree with it.

There will be times when you’ll need to hold a conversation with the group or an individual member that you are collaborating with on a certain part of the project. If you have established times from that each person in the group will be working on the project and available to talk you can meet up for a chat or phone call. Google Talk as well as other common services like MSN Messenger, Yahoo IM, AIM & Skype can give you the capability to talk with other students.

Take time early on in the lifespan of your group to meet together. This can really help everyone get on the same page before everyone goes off and starts doing their work on the project. As you go along you may this less, especially as everyone takes their tasks they have and goes to work on completing them, but make sure to meet together as often as you need to ensure the success of the project.

You may also offer to provide a meeting agenda so that everyone knows what will be covered. They can spend time putting together anything they need to present to group and you will show the group that you are interested in the project as well as in valuing their time.

When meeting pick somebody to take notes of the discussion and post a list of action items along with deadlines so that everyone continues to be on the same page. If there is a discussion thread or place to post such things specifically it can also alert your teacher to how you’re group is progressing.

These are but a few tips that can help your group work run more smoothly in an online college. I wish you the best in having productive meetings with your fellow students.

Setting Roles for Collaborative Work in Online Schools

Have you ever had the unfortunate and scary experience of standing around the scene of an accident, everyone in shock, not sure what to do? Well, while group work in an online school may not be an accident, there are definitely some similarities between a wreck and some groups that I’ve been in. It’s that moment where nobody knows what to do and nobody takes charge. In your online school group as in an accident, you need to work together as a team to accomplish a task. In both there are windows of opportunity that can pass by if you hesitate. Therefore, it’s best to plan ahead about how to address group settings before you get there to help save you time and headaches of disorganization.

There are a couple of roles that jump out from the start as important ones and depending on the task at hand there may be more. Establish up front the need for the following roles and ask others how they feel about them: the role of an organizer, the role of a general editor and the role of a final editor.

The Organizer. This individual should resist the temptation to become the “boss” or micromanager. They are mainly responsible for helping the group set deadlines, create specific and actionable tasks, making sure that someone “owns” all tasks and that the project all in all is moving forward according to goals and timelines. It may also fall upon the organizer to be in contact with the professor about the progress of the project. An organizer must make sure that they can follow through or the group may lose structure and focus.

The General Editor. This person runs through all portions of the group’s work, sews it together in a unified voice, checks for spelling and grammar mistakes, adds necessary transitions between parts, and gives the paper or project a cohesive feel. A good editor is one that is comfortable in their ability. It may need to be someone who isn’t, but this may elongate the time it takes the project to become completed significantly. Choose the best person up front to save stress down the road.

The Final Editor. While the general editor spent time making the individual papers from the individual group members, the final editor checks for adherence to style and form. They look over the bibliography, double check sources to make sure they are correct. They may also be the one who submits the final project to the instructor.

Now there may be a chance that others have felt forced into roles in the past that they didn’t feel good about. Be aware and look for signs of such repulsion towards someone taking charge. If this does happen you may talk with that individual privately and ask about their concerns and see how they would carry the project forward. If they push back to your initial efforts to organize the group, this little reassurance that you’re not there to force anyone will most likely be more than anyone else had done with them before. Share with them your enthusiasm to have them on the team and contributing towards the end goal in how they feel best.

Good luck organizing roles for good and effective team work in your online school!

Initial Contact with Your Online University Group

Have you ever been on a blind date? Did you stay up all night wondering what you were going to wear? Wondering what you’d say? Wondering if you were going to have things in common? I haven’t, but I can sympathize with those who have. I have done similar things with a new job. You wear your best clothes, stock up your best jokes and even get their a bit early to show that you’re really excited and committed to begin working. While you don’t need to pull out your hair stressing over meeting with your online university project group for the first time, there are a couple of things you may want to do to help ease the meeting and make a good impression.

When you first get into an online college class you should make a point to introduce yourself to everyone and get to know each person a little. This does two things: one, it gives you a little better idea of who everyone is and if you are allowed to pick those with whom you work, you will be much more prepared to do so. And two, it helps break the ice and give you a head start on group projects. If you have prepared in this way, your group experience will be much smoother.

Next, when you are interacting with group members for the first time there is a good chance that you will not have already exchanged email addresses. Even if your online profile allows you to contact your classmates via the school system, you may wish to exchange a little bit more information to help group work roll along more smoothly.

You will also wish to share with your group your schedule for studying so they know when they can get a hold of you and when they shouldn’t expect to hear anything from you. A large part of online university group work is managing expectations. Set them early and live up to them. If you are going to deviate from them, let the others know. This will help keep your group running smoothly.

When you introduce yourself formally to your group let them know a little bit about you and your interests. Give them also a little bit of an idea what you think about the project you were assigned and what role you would like perform in it. Don’t insist that you do something, but suggest that you would feel comfortable taking a certain role, but are open to the group input and what they would like to do.

So, when you are first meeting your group, if you’ve done some footwork ahead of time you should be able to ease nicely into the relationships. You should give them some more of your contact info, let them know when you are available and what you would like to do in the course of the project. Good luck with your online university group work. It can be very rewarding if you let it.

Introduction to Online College Group Work

So you thought you were going to avoid working with other people by taking some online classes huh? Well, you may just have, but chances are that you will not be able to get through an online degree without having some sort of collaboration with others. Why is this? Why can’t you just learn on your own and do on your own? Well, probably because part of your online college experience is to teach you to work on a team. Not that everyone will go get a job where they work on teams, but even business owners have to work with others. In just about anything you choose to do you will be working with others in some form or fashion. Learn how to do it now and you’ll be miles ahead once you graduate.

You may not like working with others. That can change. Many of us have had experiences with others that we would rather forget. But if you take some time to learn some skills you are sure to come to enjoy it more. In group work you need communication skills, organizational skills, hard work skills and a little bit of patience.

Let’s start with the communication skills. It’s not always easy to get your point across to others. We all grow up with different backgrounds to the words we use. Sometimes when we use a certain word we think others should know what we mean by it, and this may be generally true. But sometimes a word is negatively charged for someone you are sharing with when to you it means something quite to the contrary. Just as a quick example, some may have learned growing up in a home with feminist parents that words like rule, dominion and head when referring to men/women relations are condescending and to be fought against. And another may have grown up in a home where they learned that men are to rule over women like Christ rules over the Church (pardon my religious reference, just making a comparison), with understanding, gentleness, protection, patience and love. We have similar difference in other areas too. However, you can learn to ask people what they mean when something they say seems a bit odd. This can help divert simple misunderstandings dealing with words.

To plan or not to plan…not a good question. Planning when in a group context helps everyone know what part they are going to be playing. When everyone owns a task, nobody owns it. You may have run up against a slacker before in a group. Oft times this comes from no ownership of tasks, lack of followup or lack of clarity on a given task. So, when you’re in a group, plan well to avoid some common group hang-ups.

Hard work is key to any kind of task, but especially to group work. Pulling your own load and helping to ease the already existing stress of the other students builds group cohesion like nothing else, well, exept maybe bringing brownies to a group study. However, since you’re online, you’re going to have to rely on the hard work to put a smile on the face of your fellow students.

Patience is a virtue said a character on an old James Bond movie. I thought it was insightful when I heard it, but found out later that the concept didn’t originate from Roger Moore. Timeless is the virtue of patience and timeless are the benefits that come from it. There will be times when you need to extend a little understanding to a fellow student who is not meeting deadlines for your online college group work. Sometimes all you need to do is hear them out and validate them as a person to get them in a healthy space to step up and start matching team effort. After all, wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?

So, if you land yourself on an online college team, remember some of these points and you’ll have a much smoother go. Good luck!

Offline Tips for Online College Students

You’re probably not a programmer, but you most likely have spent a day or two in front of a computer screen. Am I right? Well, there’s something magical that happens when you do something like that. It doesn’t take all day. Sometimes it only takes an hour to see the magic. You are pretty sure that there is no welding or gluing going on, but for some reason you are STUCK in front of the computer and you can’t get away. You think to yourself, “I am hungry, I should go get something to eat,” or “I should go for a walk or something.” Sometimes you don’t even think about anything, but what’s on the screen in front of you. Well, that’s the magic, you’re in front of the computer and it’s as if you were brain washed and no exterior task or concern can enter in. You may like this comatose state, but here are a couple thoughts for online college students who want to take away a bit of the magic of which I spoke.

Do you like to talk? Well, one offline solution for online college students is to get some voice to text software and start talking out their papers and ideas while they walk around the room. You may feel a bit like Captain Kirk from Star Trek for a bit at first (I personally hope if you do this, that the feeling never wears off, it’s pretty cool) but you will get used to it and it will give you a break from looking at the screen for so long.

Close your eyes. I am writing most of this article with my eyes closed. Of course this is problem if you have yet learned to type well enough, but I have noticed that my ideas flow a little bit quicker when I type with my eyes closed. I believe that one reason this is so is because I tend to correct my spelling as I go along, but if my eyes are closed or I am looking at a book while I type then I can write faster and go back to edit when I am complete, making a much better use of my time.

Don’t ya just love reading ebooks? Yeah, if you’re like me you love it until you hit that glazed and magical state, then you’d fair well if you were down by the river with a book format instead. One idea for articles and shorter books is to print them off so you CAN go down by the river to read them. Another benefit to this is that you kill trees…uh, just kidding, just seeing if you’re still reading this. Another benefit to printing out your material to read away from the computer is that you can mark them up, pose questions, highlight, etc. I know some programs let you do this with your online text, but you can’t really lay out all the pages and compare sections like you can with paper. And if you’re still bothered by the environmental impact, plant a tree in your yard for each year you’re at school to feel better. It’ll be a great memory of all the hard work you did.

So there ya have it, some offline tips for online college students. Good luck in dodging the zombie magic of the internet and computer screens!