Click here to download a printable version of this document in Word format

   Guidelines for Students Participating in Online Discussions


Help your students get the most out of online discussions by writing a set of guidelines to make your expectations clear. Copy and paste the text below and add your own ideas. Consider posting your version of the guidelines in your syllabus and as an attachment to the opening message of your first online discussion.

What is an online discussion?

An online discussion is similar to a voice mail or an email conversation with a few important differences, such as:

  • An online discussion can involve a number of participants, such as a team of students or an entire class.

  • All messages stay posted in the discussion board for participants to read at any time.

  • A discussion can last for a week or longer.

You will find online discussions as rigorous as any face-to-face classroom discussion. The purpose of a discussion is dialogue as a means of learning.

Suggestions for students participating in an online discussion:

Include clear requirements for your course discussions. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use appropriate Netiquette.
    Use respectful and appropriate language in your responses.

  • You are expected to read all messages.
    You are responsible for reading all of the messages that are posted in the online discussion. Not reading messages is the equivalent of sleeping in class.

  • You are expected to respond to each other.
    An online discussion resembles a classroom discussion in its entire rigor.

  • All messages posted are public.
    In an in-class discussion, you share ideas with all class members. In an online discussion, you can expect that everyone in the class will read your messages.

  • Use email to send a private message.
    If you want to send a private message to someone, click on the person's name and use the email function. Otherwise, all messages are considered public.

  • Use a person's name when you reply to a message.
    It helps to keep all of us oriented. It helps us maintain a clearer sense of who is speaking and who is being spoken to. As we begin to associate names with tone and ideas, we come to know each other better.

  • Change the subject line when you introduce a new topic.
    The value of this tip will become apparent as the number of messages grows.

Adapted from Tom Cantu
Bernie Fortenbaugh , CIAT. Copyright, 2001 Towson University.