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WI Communication Etiquette Guidelines

The Wilmette Institute aims to provide innovative and transformative learning experiences that build capacity in learners to contribute to prevalent public discourses from a Baha’i perspective through study, consultation, action, and reflection, to students seeking to make the world more compassionate, just, and inclusive. Positive learning experiences emerge from inquiry, consultation, and reflection. Successful courses cultivate meaningful relationships among participants, with faculty, and with the surrounding community. Within our courses, then, we seek to establish a positive, safe, and mutually supportive learning environment. 

There are many opportunities for meaningful interactions in our courses: through video conferences, forums, email, private messages, and opportunities to have significant and uplifting conversations with people in our families and communities. Our learners seek to participate in and contribute to positive interactions and learning environments. Nevertheless, we would like to share the following guidelines for interactions with peers and faculty to facilitate positive learning environments and avoid conflict. By participating in our courses and interacting with others, you are agreeing to follow these guidelines.

In general, we recommend assuming that faculty and peers have a pure motive. WI attracts diverse audiences–in age, race, gender, culture, experiences, education, language, and beliefs. There may be large cultural differences in the group of participants and often WI courses take on challenging social issues that some are more experienced with and sensitive to than others. Seek to appreciate and be enhanced by the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts, but also listen intently to learn from others.

Web-based forums have unique limitations. Written communication lacks body language which opens the possibility of misinterpretation. Unfortunately, a humorous tone may be interpreted as condescending or insulting. “Emoticons” may help, but sometimes they don’t. Be aware of the limitations inherent in written communication and make an effort to be clear, open, and friendly. Be as courteous and polite as possible. If a misunderstanding arises, be prepared to explain in other words, and apologize when appropriate, privately or publicly. 

Initial Forum Posts. Forum posts display an understanding of the readings, other resources, and underlying concepts. Posts integrate personal perspectives or experiences to support important points. We suggest that everyone send their messages to the forum in a detached manner without expecting responses 

Forum Responses. In addition to responding “I agree” or “good point”, response posts actively stimulate and sustain further discussion by building on peers’ responses including building a focused perspective around an issue or asking a new related question, or making a thought-provoking statement supported by personal experience or related research. Responds to postings of peers in a timely fashion.

Emotional or controversial topics. If we were sitting in a classroom and an emotionally difficult subject came up, the instructor could gauge the class’s reaction by body language. If someone is looking upset but doesn’t seem to want to speak, the teacher can help the person express his or her thoughts. But if someone in an online forum is angry, no one else will know until they say so. This can result in a very unsatisfactory discussion. Swearing, insults, and other nastiness are highly inappropriate and in extreme cases could result in someone being removed from a course.

Curse words and racial slurs—even in the reported text—should be strictly avoided. If in doubt about the appropriateness of a post, please consult your faculty mentor before posting. We also urge people who are feeling upset to send a private message to their mentor before posting to everyone. Even a mildly angry posting to the forum can cause some sensitive students to refrain from posting, and since they won’t say anything, no one will even know why they are silent.

Loss of the distinction between private and public speech. In a classroom, you can turn and whisper to the person next to you. The equivalent in an online course is private messaging. It is best to reply to personal comments off the forums.

Updated: 22 February, 2023

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