Expressing Yourself: Avoid Looking Like a ‘Poor’ College Student

Expressing Yourself: Avoid Looking Like a 'Poor' College Student

Have you considered how powerful the messages that you post in an online classroom are? If you’re like most students, you log onto the classroom website and start posting, either on a discussion board or in a chat room, without evaluating the potential those messages hold.

Why is it important to consider the impact of these posts? You are communicating in an environment without the benefit of being able to clarify what was written and these messages are subject to perceptual interpretation. Without visual cues and verbal follow up, your words become your representative and that’s how others develop an impression of you. If you’re not careful about what you post, you may develop a poor image.

Strategies to Strengthen Your Communication

What students often do not realize until they have worked in an online classroom for some time is that their communication has to adapt to this environment not just because of the setting but due to the nature of the conversations. Once you begin work as a student, you have made a transition from casual conversations (with family and friends) to academic discussions about topics that are relevant to the learning objectives. The following are strategies that can help you develop your online posts.

A. Think Before You Post

One method of reviewing the tone of your messages is to read them prior to posting. Within an online classroom you likely do not know most of your classmates and need to take time to consider what you are going to write. What I’ve found through my work in an online class is that the ability to think before you post is one of the greatest advantages of online messaging.

B. Develop a Standardized Language

Casual communication often uses an abbreviated language. In an online class you are likely to have classmates of all ages and backgrounds, which means that text speak may not be understood by everyone and appear unprofessional. It is helpful to consider online classroom posts like written assignments. Your posts need proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structuring. When a message is written properly it becomes easier to understand its meaning, which helps keep discussion conversations going.

C. Add Your Personality

When posting in an online classroom, students often become more hesitant to post messages since they aren’t there to explain what was written. While academic messages are more formal in nature, you can still interject some of your personality. You can do this by personalizing your responses with examples from your background, career, or prior experiences that are relevant to the discussion topics. Be careful about over-utilizing emoticons as it can become distracting and too casual. Also be cautious about using sarcasm so that you avoid potential misunderstandings.

D. Consider Visual Cues

One of the challenges for posting in an online class is not having visual cues to accompany the message and this means students must find new methods of conveying their tone. What you can use instead are visual enhancements to help maintain a professional tone and still add a little of your personality. For example, if you want to emphasize a point you can underline some of the words or put them in bold. Be careful about using different font colors or highlighting as the message may become difficult for some students to read.

E. Develop the Right Tone

The Purdue Online Writing Lab has a resource that addresses the tone of written messages and it indicates that “the writer should consider several things when preparing to write. The following questions will help you to determine the appropriate tone for your message. Why am I writing this document? Who am I writing to and what do I want them to understand? What kind of tone should I use?” These questions are designed for business communication, which is also relevant for academic responses as they are also of a professional nature. Before you post anything in the class, consider the intended audience and how the tone may be interpreted.

F. Put Your Best Foot Forward

When students first begin posting messages in an online classroom, the thought of posting something that everyone will read can be intimidating. This is often due to working with a group of classmates (and an instructor) they don’t know. One approach that I recommend is to consider your messages in a manner similar to providing customer service. For example, if you are a store employee, how would you treat a customer that came into your store? In other words, it is all about putting your best foot forward and making a great first impression.

Manage Your Digital Identity

It is likely that you’ll read through the list of strategies provided above, acknowledge the importance of crafting messages that are suitable for an academic environment, and then continue working online without developing an overall plan. What will benefit your work as a student is to consider everything you post– from messages in the classroom to posts on social networking websites – as part of your online personal brand. Your brand is the image you create with everything you post online and it becomes your digital presence. A well-crafted personal brand is necessary as a student and as a job seeker. As you begin your job search, employers will likely conduct an online search before contacting you for an interview. This means you need to be in control of your image so that you also manage your reputation.

While employers won’t have access to your online class, they may be able to find any related websites you have created or linked to the classroom, such as a wiki, blog, or social networking profile, depending upon how you have managed the settings for those accounts. In my post, Online Students Need Reputation Management, I provided some techniques for managing your digital image. For example, monitor the messages you’ve posted on social networking websites and consider what values you want to be evident through your online activities. Also check the mechanics (spelling and grammar) of your posts, and as you check the content, consider potential copyright issues for published information or photos.

As a student (and future job candidate) it becomes important to think of your online activity as a collective whole. As you learn to post messages in class that are professional in nature and have a neutral tone, you can use that same approach for everything you post online. Messages that are not well received from a perceptual basis, either due to word choice or perceived tone, can have a negative impact on how others view you, which may also influence how they interact with you. Now is the time to consider how you express yourself online and avoid having a poor digital image.

You can follow Dr. Bruce A. Johnson on Twitter @DrBruceJ and Google+.

Photo © G. Baden/Corbis

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