Online communication

  • Many of our interactions with other people, both in a professional and an academic context, are now online. This brings benefits, such as greater flexibility and less need to travel, but also challenges, such as not being able to pick up on body language as easily. Many of us may feel comfortable communicating with our friends online, but the skills and awareness needed to communicate online professionally can be very different.

    Our top tips

    Follow their lead

    When contacting your lecturers and other University staff in emails it is best to be formal to start with. Use a formal greeting like ‘Dear Dr Uze’, and proper sentences with no text-speak. If they reply more informally using their first name and greetings like ‘Hi’, you can follow their lead and use these too. For more on the general principles of internet etiquette see this guide:

    Be safe but seen

    Know how to keep safe online, such as being cautious about sharing your personal information and ensuring you have secure passwords. See the ‘Be Safe’ section of Brookes’ Digital Capabilities for Students course on Moodle. However, if you are communicating in online meetings with trusted colleagues, like classmates and lecturers, consider having your camera switched on to help create a sense of belonging and community.

    An instant reply?

    Studying online involves communication that is both ‘synchronous’ - at the same time, like attending a live-streamed lecture, and ‘asynchronous’ - at different times, like posting on a discussion board and people replying later. This can make it hard to keep track of and slightly distracting. Online learning often means you have to set up more structure and reminders for yourself than studying face to face. Set aside specific time for online communication for learning, like replying on discussion boards or giving peer feedback on work. For more on creating systems that work for you, see our page on time management:

    Post early on discussion boards

    Discussion boards may seem slightly old-fashioned. However, they are valuable in online learning as they mean everyone can see and take part in different threads of a discussion. If no one is posting, no one is benefitting, so it can help to start off the discussion. It’s also easier to post early on, as no one has already made a similar point. See this quick overview and more detailed guide on how to get the most out of discussion boards:

    Mute your mic in lectures

    If you’re in a live-streamed lecture, mute your mic when you’re not speaking. No one wants to hear you munching your crisps at maximum volume! It can help to get familiar with the online platform before the session so you know where things like the mute button and chat box are.

    Chat box - be kind

    Chat functions during lectures or meetings can seem similar to using WhatsApp or other instant messaging. However, it’s a more formal academic environment. Don’t use the chat function to have a private conversation with your friends and don’t post sarcastic comments, as it is difficult to understand tone and intention online. Be kind and courteous to everyone and use the chat function professionally.

    It goes wrong!

    Technological failures, interruptions, and distractions can all make online communication harder. Don’t worry if things go wrong. There are usually alternatives like a phone call instead of a video call, or a lecture recording instead of the live-stream. Contact your lecturer to see what options there are. You won’t miss out, and children and pets accidentally bursting in are all part of the experience! See this video for more online mishaps:

    Promote yourself professionally

    Using social media like LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging tools can create a professional identity online and help you communicate your interest in certain industries or issues. See the ‘Be Professional’ section of Brookes’ Digital Capabilities for Students course on Moodle, and visit the Careers Service for more advice. Also see these tips on maximising your career potential online: