If this is your first experience with online degrees in computer science, you'll find that learning online is a bit different from learning in the classroom. Much of the communication is through the written word, without face-to-face contact, so it's critical to know how to interact online and not breach the rules of Internet etiquette ("netiquette"). Still, the goals of collaborative discussion and cooperation remain the same.
It may take you some time to get used to the netiquette guidelines while earning your online degree. Computer science connects you with others, but old-fashioned good manners prevent misunderstandings and promote positive communication.
Essential Netiquette Guidelines
Whether you're online to earn a degree or just for fun, some behaviors and precautions are just a good idea. Learning these basic netiquette guidelines will smooth your way:
- Stay Cool Online: Written messages often have more impact than spoken ones. It's best to avoid using strong or offensive language, and limit the use of exclamation points. Don't write in all capital letters; that's the same as shouting—which is rude even in cyberspace.
- Don't Forget about Eavesdroppers: Remember that what you write will be read, re-read, and may have a long life online. It may be read by people you never intended to see it—even those who you have never met. A good rule to follow: Never post anything you wouldn't want to be read by your mother, your boss or a judge.
- Keep a Straight Face: Dry humor and sarcasm don't work very well in online messages, and will likely give offense if misinterpreted. Emoticons (such as :) or "smiley") can help convey your intended tone when used sparingly, but it's usually safer to avoid humor altogether.
- Don't Crowd Your Content: If your message is longer than three or four lines long, break it up into multiple paragraphs to make it easier to read.
- Use Netspeak, but Use It Sparingly: Using popular abbreviations as in text messaging (BTW, LOL, IMHO) can keep your messages short. But excessive use of these can make your message harder to read, and in a diverse classroom not everyone may be familiar with their meaning.
Online Classroom Behavior
Online education is an especially collaborative way to learn, perhaps even more so than in traditional classrooms. In online classes, you have to listen to others even more carefully than in a classroom setting. If you listen closely before contributing, you will help ensure that everyone can be productive.
- Stay On Subject: To be respectful of everyone's time while earning your computer science degree online, read the discussion's subject line and ask yourself if your reply really addresses the topic. You should be offering more information on the subject to your fellow students, not just offering a personal response to the last post. If you have a new topic to bring up, start a new thread. And if you must offer a personal response, send it just to the commenter—not to everyone.
- Promptness Pays: To keep discussions moving, respond to email messages or forum posts within a 24-hour period. That means checking your email and class discussion boards at least once a day, to avoid missing posts by your instructor and other students.
- Read Carefully Before Replying: Before adding your own comments to an online discussion, read everyone else's comments first. Someone else may have already offered the same information. If you have more to add, post your comment so that it is under the related post, to help keep topics organized.
- Think, Then Click: Read all replies closely before sending them to make sure they are both clear and appropriate. Delete anything that is redundant, unnecessary, off-topic or possibly offensive. Try reading your message out loud—to yourself or to another person—to make sure it flows naturally. Read flatly to make sure it isn't dependent on the tone of your voice.
- Be Forgiving and Generous: If you must correct someone, do so kindly with a personal email, not on the group thread. Just like in the classroom, questions should be encouraged. If you have expert knowledge, share it with everyone and invite others to contribute their own. That's what makes online degree programs work.