Learning through CMC
Computer Mediated Communication

Lucy Tribble MacDonald

Before the Web, there was CMC.

CMC is the bones of online classroom discussion and of tutoring online.

Activity # 1 - Join the workshop.


A Sense of Class - Building a Community of Learners

Amy Jo Kim. Community Building on the Web

  • Welcome Your Visitors
  • Instruct Your Novices
  • Reward Your Regulars
  • Empower Your Leaders
  • Honor Your Elders

Tutoring Online

  • Immediately send a friendly notification that the query has been received.
  • Use the computer as a window, not a mask.--Michael Coward, Pima Community College online tutor
  • Create a sense of place



Activity # 2 - Say Hello.

  1. In the subject line, put "your name" hello, e.g. lucy's hello.
  2. In the message say hi, g'day, bjonjour or whatever strikes your fancy. Then briefly tell us what you teach/administrate.
  3. Next, let us know what is the one most important idea, concept, item that you want to get out of today's workshop.

And, yes, you can read what everyone else has to say.

Rule of 3 for online discussions

        1. Must be carefully crafted.
        2. Must be coached.
        3. Must be value

Must be carefully crafted

Planning ahead of time

Coached Lucy story:
"Yes, that's what I said, but that's not what I meant!"

Students need to know

  • what to do and
  • how to do it.

Teach how to discuss online:

  • Reply or Post
  • Main Question with Reply Only
  • Threaded discussion
  • Students can initiate new thread or not.

Pedagogy and Learning

Pedagogical Roles for Online Discussions

What Makes A Successful Online Facilitator?

  • Be a model (See activity #3)
  • Give instructions
  • Provide communication in course requirements and philosophy
  • Break the Ice - Try Kingdomality
  • Provide Motivation and Encouragement
  • Understand the forms of online talk
  • Meanings within Meanings
  • Other Techniques based on mode of communication

Activity # 3 - Introduce yourself.

  1. Students will follow your model. If you are informal, they will be informal. If you are formal, they will be formal.
  2. See and hear Lucy's introduction.
  3. See how other instructor's introduce themselves.
  4. Briefly write your own introduction. Concentrate on establishing rapport and the tone/culture for your discussions.


Tone - seems much stronger online.


Don't put yourself in the middle of the discussion.

Use small groups:

  • peer editing groups in writing
  • task oriented
  • color coded

Acknowledge work received immediately.
"Just received your paper. I'm excited to read your proposal."

Set parameters:

  • Let students know when you will respond. Many students feel that you should be sitting at your computer waiting for their questions and that you should answer within 5 minutes!
  • I use the first in / first out method.
  • Set up communication for many to many. PhD dissertation on my writing class showed that questions were answered within 5 minutes up to 24 hours (never longer). However, many questions were answered by other students.

FaciliTips: Quick Tips for Online Facilitation

5 Online Poison Pills

5 stages of

Gilly Salmon's book on E-Moderating deliniates the process of an online discussion by listing of 5 stages. The first stages require more faculty input tapering off towards the last stage.

  1. Access and Motivation
  2. Online Socialization
  3. Information Exchange
  4. Knowledge Construction
  5. Development

Read Chapter 1 online and see the diary of a moderator, giving "real world" examples of what the process is like, what the students actually say and how long it takes.


Fix problem situations quickly and effectively.


Synergy and the Online Community

  • Provide a Course Philosophy
  • Structure Discussion into the Course
  • Structure the Discussion
  • Be Engaging
  • Break the Ice
  • Fix Problem Situations Quickly and Effectively

  10 different types of Student Disruptions

The Know-It-All

  • Give him/her the opportunity to "save face".

The Mutineer

  • Note the complaint.
  • Ignore any hostility to maintain your composure.

The Lagging Belligerent Student

  • Although the student may be angered by falling behind, ignore emotion and be supportive.
  • Offer advice.

The Attacking Belingerent Student

  • See Mutineer above.

The Controller

  • Restate guidelines for all discussion forums as well as guidelines for student posts.
  • Respond quickly to any posts that might present themselves as the only answer and ask for alternatives.
  • Pose questions directly to other students.

The Staller

  • There can be many reasons why a student's postings are continually not on time. The first step is to determine the reason(s).
  • Based on these reasons try to come up with a solution that will help the student to catch up and remain with the course.

The Must Have An "A" Student

  • Be firm.
  • Be objective.

The Non-Participant

  • Encourage the student.
  • Pose questions directly to other students.
  • Inquire individually about possible reasons (see Staller above.)
  • Suggest techniques such as managing time and printing messages to help enable the student to participate.

The Overloaded Student

  • If a student is consistently posting, yet for some reason is receiving little student feedback, prompt for this feedback through directed questions regarding the student's posts.

The Concerned or Anxious Student

  • Determine nature of concern (is it a privacy issue or anxiety over student feedback.?)
  • Reassert purpose of classroom discussion.
  • encourage participation and be supportive.
  • Plug any security leaks if they pose a concern.
  • Suggest helpful techniques to student such as managing time, priting messages, waiting to absorb materials before composing responses, etc.


Unless you value online participation, students will not see this as an integral part of the course. In the student's view, value is determined by points or a grade of some kind.

  • Lucy gives bonus points to the student who starts first.
  • This insures that the discussion is not left until the last minute.
  • Points are assigned as completed/not completed.
  • Discussion questions show up in the tests and students who have not thoroughly participated in the critical thinking activities are at a disadvantage.
  • Rubric for class discussion from Westwood College


What not to do:

  • Assign points to discussion but don't tell students what to do.
  • Never interact in the discussion. It looks like the instructor in not in the classroom and does not value the discussion.
  • In a computer science class, say "If anyone has a question, just post it here." This is like saying, if you're stupid, just raise your hand.
  • Answer all the postings yourself.

Avoiding Pitfalls Avoiding Online Discussion Pitfalls - This problem/ solution matrix is helpful to both identify possible pitfalls as well as learn about workable solutions.

Research Lucy's Annotated List
  EModerators - Mauri Collins and Zane Berge
  University of Illinois - What Every Student Should Know About Online Learning
Screen Beans from A Bit Better - www.bitbetter.com

Free Resources
This web site (sabbatical and retirement project of Lucy MacDonald) includes both study skills resources by category and contextual study skills and writing skills listed by discipline. Students are encouraged to provide comments for each of the items here. See the student comment on how to study biology. Comments are reviewed before posting. Students may remain anonymous, if they choose.