Using Communication Tools in an Online Course

Jean Gordon, MSN, RN, School of Health Sciences

Understanding and following the format of an online course can be quite challenging, especially if you are new to Excelsior College. There are so many different boxes and titles on the screen and you’re not really sure which ones are relevant to you. Sometimes there are links to other documents or other sites within the course and it all just seems very confusing.

Being organized and following requirements are crucial to successfully completing and passing a course. Although there are some standards within each course, faculty may also have preferences about how and when to submit assignments, where to post them, how to ask questions about personal vs. technical issues, or how to arrange for a personal conference if needed.

Although I post clear instructions prior to the first day of class, I can always recognize those students who haven’t read the communication tips, because they will ask me the question several weeks later that I had already covered on Day 1.

Here are the various types of and areas for communication in most courses:

Discussion Board Posting: Welcome & Introduction

  • This is where you introduce yourself to your class, but also to your professor. Often there will be a welcome post from the professor stating the information he/she would like to see in your post.
  • I like to know where my students live (if there are time differences when someone is in another country, it might affect computer access), reasons for taking the course, previous experience with the subject matter, and whether this is the first on-line or Excelsior course. This allows me to guide and respond to a student more appropriately throughout the course.

 Instructor Information

  • In this introduction, the instructor will usually include expectations, office hours, how to reach him/her, and other information that will be helpful for you to communicate effectively.

Start Here:  Course Information

  • This is the introductory area of a course and contains the course syllabus (outline), required readings and assignments, required software and equipment (such as an audio recorder), whether there are videos or PowerPoints, textbook information, grading rubrics, and grade percentages for the various course activities (case studies, tests, activities, discussion postings, etc.)
  • I usually recommend to my students that they print the syllabus and use it as a tool to mark off each assignment submitted. Many students forget to submit assignments when there is more than one in a module.

Course Related Questions

  • Read the guidelines on the type of material your instructor considers appropriate for this discussion board area.

 Announcements and Messages

  • You are expected to check for announcements and messages each time you log into the course. This is usually the primary way your professor will communicate with you and inform you about course assignments, common errors, changes, reminders, etc.
  • Messages are often used for individual questions or problems and serves as a communication tool between the faculty and student. If you would prefer a phone discussion, request that with your professor, as most faculty members are available.


  • When a student does not reply to a message or questions posed in discussion board postings, or is late in submitting assignments, I will send an email.

 Technical Challenges

  • Technical issues come up with audio, video, PowerPoints, etc., so please let your professor know as soon as possible that you are having problems.
  • Excelsior Technical Support Department is available by phone or email 24 hours a day, every day. There is a link in the course and also helpful fact sheets about browser settings, known issues and troubleshooting tips, etc.

The goal of every faculty member is to motivate you to learn, to complete the course, to find the content meaningful and relevant, and to help you to succeed. So, please communicate with us.

Jean Gordon has been an adjunct faculty member in the School of Health Sciences since 2011.  She is also an Excelsior alumnus, having graduated from the BSN program.  Her nursing experience has been with end of life and pain management, both in oncology and hospice. 

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