Using Communication Tools
Online courses use remote communication tools to not only deliver course content but also to collect assignments and communicate among students and between students and instructors. Even in-person classes usually involve some online communication. The sections below offer advice and resources to help you use these tools more easily and effectively.
Chat is a quick, real-time text conversation with one or more other people. It is useful when seeking clarification with your instructor, collaborating with a group, and participating in course seminars.
Our instructors and staff most commonly use Canvas and Microsoft Teams to chat with students. Here are instructions on using chat on Canvas and here is the tutorial on using Teams to chat. Both Canvas and Teams have mobile apps.
For some quick tips on how to chat politely, check out this article.
Online discussions serve an important purpose in online learning, as they replace in-class discussions. Most of our instructors use Canvas to hold discussions, so here are guidelines for using Canvas discussion boards.
There are two common types of online class discussions:
- Casual discussions – These are discussions that are not graded, but rather used as spaces for students to communicate with each other. Use these discussions to ask and answer questions about the course and meet your classmates. You should follow any directions from your instructor(s) and use netiquette, but otherwise, relax and use the discussion in a way you find helpful.
- Discussion assignments – These are typically graded and may have guidelines or rules you must follow in order to receive a good mark. Still use netiquette, but pay special attention to the assignment requirements, as they may not be what you expect in a “discussion.”
Here is some more instruction on using Canvas discussion boards.
Students, staff, and faculty at Lethbridge College are required to use Microsoft Outlook to send and receive emails. To access your emails, you must download or sign in to your free Lethbridge College Office 365 account, which you can do from here. Like Canvas and Teams, Outlook does have a mobile app. Here are guidelines for using Outlook.
For a tutorial on email basics, go to Email 101.
For a top ten list for writing effective email, go to Top 10 Email Tips.
Beyond composing an email, you need to understand how to view, open and save attachments in email. For demonstration purposes, check out sending and receiving attachments and open, preview, or save email attachments in Microsoft Outlook. For attaching and opening large documents, see the next section on zipping and unzipping files.
Zipping and Unzipping Email Files
If a file you need to send is too big, you may need to zip (or compress) the file. And instructors and other students may send you a zipped file, which you will have to unzip in order to open.
To create a .zip file, right click on the file, then select the command “Add to zip file” or Add to archive” or “Compress.” This will create a .zip file that can be attached like any other file to your email, or saved to your computer folders.
To unzip or open a .zip file that you have received in your email, you simply right click on the file name and select “Extract.” Depending upon your personal shortcuts, and your computer settings, your computer may unzip files automatically when you open email attachments.
If you are having difficulty sending large files, you may want to check with your internet service provider. Sometimes the service provider can increase the allowable file size for your account.
To learn more about zipping files, visit Zip a file or Zip and unzip files (in Windows 10) at Microsoft.com
Online conferencing apps
Conferencing apps are software you can download or access on a computer or mobile device to make video or audio calls over an internet connection. These apps come in handy when you would like a face-to-face or voice-to-voice meeting but cannot meet in person. Especially when in-person meetings aren’t feasible, instructors may require students to meet using a video conferencing app.
Here are conferencing apps commonly used by Lethbridge College students, faculty, and staff:
Microsoft Teams is part of the Office 365 suite provided for free to all staff and students from here. It’s the preferred app for staff to hold video meetings with students as it is relatively safe due to stronger encryption methods. You may need to use Teams to access some Lethbridge College services. If you have trouble using the conferencing part of Teams, here’s the Teams video meeting guide (for PC) or the Teams video meeting guide (for mobile devices).
Canvas also allows you to video conference with your instructors and fellow students. We recommend using a laptop to hold video conferences, but you can also use your phone or tablet. Here are instructions to download the mobile app. If you’re having trouble using the conferencing tool, here are instructions for PC and here are instructions for Android.
Skype is exclusively for video and audio calls and chatting, making it simpler to use. It is sometimes used between staff or students to meet remotely. You can download it here and get help on how to use it here.
Zoom is used for most classes, events, and large meetings at Lethbridge College. You don’t need to download anything to join a Zoom meeting, but need to download the client/plugin to host a Zoom meeting. Here are the instructions on hosting a meeting. Zoom also has a series of video tutorials, if you need some help using it.
If you’d like information on other conferencing apps, Wikipedia maintains an up-to-date comparison chart of common conferencing apps.
Supports for Lethbridge College students
If you are a Lethbridge College student, you can access LinkedIn Learning for free, which means you can access thousands of tutorials on using many of the common digital communication tools. Here’s a video on how to access LinkedIn Learning.
Additionally, the Set For Success: Navigating Learning at a Distance course covers many of the communication tools mentioned above. We recommend completing this course before you start classes, but you can access, use, work through, etc. the modules to whatever extent and at whatever pace works for you. Self-enroll here.
Online Communication Tip Sheet
Use the following online communication tips to ensure you are making the most of these tools! These are also called netiquette.
- Participate. Understand the participation expectations of your instructor. For example, you may be required to participate in a minimum of one chat, create one original discussion posting, and respond to at least two posts created by your classmates. Be sure to complete at least the minimum requirements for participation in the course.
- Be insightful. Understand the expectations of your instructor for the quality of communication in the course. If there is a communication rubric or marking guide, be sure to read it before you begin. In general, responses such as “I agree” in either a synchronous or asynchronous environment are unproductive. Consider supporting your ideas and opinions with reference to readings, research or course materials. Additionally, you may ask probing questions or make connections to the real world in your response.
- Be timely. This is especially important when communicating asynchronously because it is not useful to join a discussion forum that is already finished. Be aware of deadlines for asynchronous communications and scheduled synchronous events. This will ensure that you are actively participating and gaining as much as possible from the experience.
- Communicate clearly. Avoid acronyms, slang, and abbreviations in your communication. This is your classroom, so your language choices need to be clear, appropriate and presented in full sentences. When composing an asynchronous message, it is advisable to proofread and edit your work before sending. Always follow netiquette, the code for acceptable conduct in your online communication. For a brief tutorial on online etiquette and a self-marking quiz, explore the Netiquette Core Rules
- Remember the human. Your instructor and classmates are not simply names on a class list; they are people and are part of this experience. If there is an icebreaker activity that involves introducing yourself, jump right in! Get to know the people you are working with in the course and be prepared to share your experiences, resources and questions with them as you work through the course materials. Making human connections in an online course will help you to feel less isolated and will provide you with additional support for your learning.
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