Growing up surrounded by the ease of Internet communication, I have learned the importance of practicing responsible asynchronous communication. As Carolyn pointed out earlier this week, this form of communication allows for a refreshing sense of freedom. Asynchronicity made it possible for her to build a successful career in academia while simultaneously raising four boys and moving frequently with her husband. It’s true—asynchronous communication is a great tool if it is used and practiced responsibly. However, responsibility is often cast aside when communicating online.
Asynchronous communication online often allows the poster to remain anonymous. Take the news/social media/entertainment website Reddit, for example. Self-promoted as the “front page of the internet,” Reddit has quickly become one of my favorite ways to waste my time. One of the best parts of this website is the sense of anonymity it promotes amongst its users. No one needs to know how much time I spend reading Game of Thrones fan theories because, luckily (!), no one knows who I am. Unfortunately, this great feature is often taken advantage of by Reddit’s users. Some Reddit users have abused this privilege by becoming harsh, insensitive Internet “trolls.” (Really though, we should call them what they are: bullies.)
Anonymity on Reddit acts as a makeshift security blanket. Users are unafraid of the responses of our peers or consequences of our statements so long as we can easily navigate around them. Reddit is not alone in this negative consequence of asynchronicity. Log-on to any of your favorite social media platforms and you’ll almost immediately see someone crossing the line.
Consider how your friends and family have been treating one another in the aftermath of last week’s SCOTUS rulings.
In order to lessen the negative effects of asynchronous online communication, it is important to encourage online responsibility. One of the benefits of an online learning platform is that students can be required to interact with the university’s faculty and their peers in a responsible manner. Discussion boards can be one of the most useful tools in online learning to foster discussion, engage students in critical thinking practices, and practice asynchronicity responsibly.
When constructing discussion boards for your own online classes, be sure to enforce strict rules about respect and responsibility. Let students know that although they may feel physically disconnected by space and time, the words they post online connect them in an intimate way. Although it may be difficult, attempt to encourage sensitivity to other viewpoints. In your grading comments, give guidance to students who may be crossing the line. While this is especially labor intensive for the instructor, you’ll find that as a semester continues, students are better equipped to police themselves.
The freedom granted by asynchronous communication online is both a blessing and a curse. Remember to please post responsibly.
Happy Independence Day!