Taking part online

18 November 2020

UCL has adopted a Connected Learning approach for these physically distanced times; most teaching is taking place online but continues to be an active and collaborative experience.

laptop on a table saying join us online

To be an effective online learner you need to do more than just listen, read and watch, you’ll need to participate as well. If you are new to online learning, taking part in discussions and live classes can be a bit daunting but once you start to feel comfortable there are lots of benefits to working in this way. Participating gives you to the opportunity to:  

  • Develop your ideas. 
  • Ask questions. 
  • Get to know your classmates. 
  • Reflect on what you’re learning from a personal, rather than academic or critical, perspective. 

Taking part looks different depending on the kind of activity and UCL doesn’t require you to do anything you aren’t comfortable with, such as turning on your camera in live classes. In this post we provide some basic guidance around how to participate in each type. 

General guidelines for taking part in online learning 

Some online behaviours are relevant regardless of the type of learning activity. Below are some guidelines for verbal and written online communication that will benefit everyone. 

  • Be respectful of your classmates and treat them as politely as you would in a classroom. 
  • Be constructive in your responses. Instead of saying “I agree”, try to say why you agree or disagree. 
  • Thank, acknowledge and support others. If you see something from a classmate without a response, try to answer them! 
  • Think about your language and pause if you need to. Your communication should be clear, informative and to the point. Use descriptive titles for your posts so it is clear what they are about.  
  • Use open-ended questions to keep conversations going and form relationships with others. 
  • Don’t give out any personal information that you wouldn’t ordinarily share with someone you don’t know.  

Taking part in asynchronous online discussions 

Asynchronous discussions will usually take place in Moodle discussion forums in your module and programme course spaces. Your tutors may have set up topics for discussion already or may add these as the module progresses.  

How you contribute and respond to others in discussions online is obviously different to being in a classroom. Forums mean you don’t have to be in the same place at the same time, which you can use to your advantage: 

  • Take your time to formulate your responses and prepare your arguments carefully. 
  • Gather additional material that supports what you’re saying or provides an example of a concept in the real world, such as further literature or a news article. 
  • Return to discussions at your convenience to refresh your memory. 

Discussion at UCL should be challenging but fun, and any comment or response you give should be clear, friendly, and open in the sense that you must respect different thoughts and perspectives.  

Feel free to disagree – you might even change someone’s mind! But write with care, courtesy, evidence and thought.  

Avoid personal comments and focus on challenging ideas expressed rather than the individual themselves.  

Taking part in live online classes 

Live classes give you a chance to get to know your tutor and classmates, and if everyone gets involved, you should quickly get a feel for who you might like to work with in pairs or form a study group with. 

Get ready for your class:  

  • Set a calendar reminder for the date and time of the class. 
  • Try to join from a location where you won’t be interrupted or at least hear well, e.g., with headphones. 
  • Complete any preparatory reading or activities, and note down any comments, reflections, or questions you might like to ask in advance. 

Beyond the basics, taking an active role in a class improves your own learning experience and that of your peers. The greater the contribution you make to a discussion, the more feedback you will receive on your ideas. Receiving more feedback will likely mean you are better prepared for you assessment.  

Whether your class takes place in Collaborate, Zoom, or Teams, you will typically be able to share audio, video, and write in a chat area. You should always try to contribute to conversation taking place in the chat area; consider uploading a photo or avatar to your profile; and complete any learning activities set by your tutor, but using your camera is completely optional.  

Your tutor may set other ground rules around when and how you can contribute to ensure everyone gets their turn. It is generally good practice to use a raise hand function and remain muted until you are invited to speak to minimise background noise. 

If you'd like to use the microphone or a camera but you’re not feeling confident, consider working your way up to it! Get familiar with using the chat and any reaction tools like emojis, before gradually increasing how often you use audio-visual tools – try using a question you prepared before class, so you don’t feel pressure to come up with something on the spot. 

Further resources 

Netiquette: good online behaviour at UCL. This resource explains appropriate behaviours in detail and highlights relevant UCL policies, such as our Code of Conduct.