Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age (TELEDA) Learning Block Four covered online communication and collaboration. It was clear from the discussions the issue of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour is contestable. Personally, I incline towards old fashioned strictness! The internet increasingly supports environments where almost anything goes but this needn’t be the case for virtual learning environments. With my tutor head on – I’d suggest discussion forums are not chat rooms. Unless they’ve been set up for social purposes, they’re forums for discussing issues around teaching, learning and research and guidelines should be in place to maintain that focus.
It’s never too early to encourage students (and staff) to think about appropriate online identity and boundaries between the personal/private and public/professional ways we present ourselves online including the language used. Students in particular need support in developing digital graduate attributes and awareness of the permanence of digital footprints. Establishing a code of conduct at the outset of any online discussion is good practice. It reminds participants of the purpose of the forum and can clearly state how any explicit or implicit personal criticism is unacceptable. With this in place, and a reminder to adhere to the code with each new topic, the ground rules are set and mark the point where intervention is required. How to manage that intervention is also contentious with different people having different ideas. There’s no escaping the fact managing online communication and collaboration is a challenge. It is also time consuming. Yet when it works well, online discussion can offer powerful learning experiences through communities of practice where links between participants can remain active long after the course itself has ended.