Communication is the core of both teaching and learning; it is the most important part of any learning process. But what do we mean by communication? It’s not about whizzy gadgets, aesthetic PowerPoint slides, or wordy chalkboards. Communication is the process by which information is transmitted so that an understanding response results. Effective communication is about building links, sharing information, being heard, generating meaning, and being understood. As teachers, many of us would have experienced the outcome of poor communication. The following video underscores the essence of effective communication by demonstrating a disastrous/hilarious consequence of poor communication.

Extracted from ‘The Adventures of Blinky Bill’ cartoon series.

Guidelines for Effective Communication in ODFL Classes

The goal of communications in ODFL contexts is the same as the goal in face-to-face learning environments: to bond; to share information; to be heard and understood. However, there are some differences between face-to-face and online/computer-mediated communication, which are illustrated in the table below.

Face-to-face communication

Computer-mediated communication

  • Requires no cost.
  • Requires cost to set up internet and devices.
  • Has rigid deadlines.
  • More flexible in nature.
  • Needs a small space or a physical venue, together with specific time or schedule.
  • Disregards time and space, and communication can happen anytime, anywhere.
  • Privacy of data and information.
  • Less privacy of information and data in online communication.
  • There is fast communication due to immediate feedback.
  • Slow communication as a person has to wait for the response of the feedback.
  • Restricted to only those presenting during the face-to-face meeting.
  • Enables users to reach out to a vast number of receivers simultaneously.
  • Can see non-verbal cues and body language.
  • Can see the face if video is switched on but cannot see body language.
  • Does not facilitate archive of information unless conversation is recorded.
  • Facilitates the archive of information.
  • There is no hassle of technology. All that is needed is the presence of participants to initiate dialogue.
  • There may be limitations in technology. Computers might get spoilt, internet servers might be down, and smartphones might be out of battery.
  • There may be relationship initiation barriers caused by shyness, self-consciousness about physical appearance, or other physical limitations.
  • Breaks down the barriers of communication.
  • More informal.
  • More formal.

Communication in ODFL courses can take many forms, including announcements, discussion reviews, mini-video progress reviews, and basic text-based content. Learning management systems (LMS) such as Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas have built-in communication tools, but many other communication technologies can help us bridge the gap between ODFL students and us (more information on communication tools and skills can be accessed in Module 3 under the topic “Course communication plan”).

Teaching online for the first time can be overwhelming, particularly when it comes to giving instructions. The reality of the matter is that no matter how clear you think your instructions are, you will likely never be clear enough, especially during the first few days of an ODFL course. Please remember to breathe; it takes a while for students to get used to navigating what may be a new environment. Here are some guidelines to communicate with your students:

  • Remember, less is more – When you are composing the message that will be sent to your online students, try to use as few words as possible while ensuring that your intended message is communicated with your choice of words. 
  • Be clear – Not only should your message to your students be concise, but it also needs to be clear and leave no room for confusion on the students’ part. 
  • Use bold and italics – Avoid underlining text unless it is a link (as this is confusing for students – underlined text indicates they should click). AVOID UPPERCASE LETTERS. They tend to be read as yelling. 
  • Method of communication – Before you determine how you will send your message to your students, you will need to determine how important the information being sent is to them.  
  • Know your audience – When you are communicating with your online students, it is important to remember that they may be ethnically diverse and of varying ages. These factors may affect how they perceive your communication. 
  • Make your communications personal – The students in your online classes want to feel connected to the instructor and to their classmates. 
  • Send audio messages – Allowing your online students to hear your voice will also help them form a bond with you and help them to feel your presence more firmly in the class.
  • Provide timely feedback – Because your online students are learning from a distance, it is important that they receive timely and consistent feedback regarding their progress in the class.
  • Go! live and synchronous. Hosting online office hours using applications like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, and BigBlueButton can make a more personal connection with your online students. During virtual office hours, students can ask questions and get an answer in real-time.
  • Ask for their opinion. Asking your students what they think adds another personal touch to your communications.

Effective communication in an ODFL environment is essential for orienting students and familiarising them with technology-based learning. This must be actively facilitated and monitored by the ODFL teacher. Students must feel the teacher’s presence, creating a learning experience that is engaging and interactive.