Whoops, Apostrophe

A few years ago, I use to be quite a heavy user of ICQ and MSN Messenger. My online conversations would be peppered with emoticons, iterative punctuation and prominent capitalization. Unbeknown to me, I was using what Garrison & Anderson (2003) called “affective responses” to replace those non-verbal communication and voice intonations that we all rely upon when talking to someone face-to-face.

Irrespective of these “digital expressions“, I would occasionally find myself embroiled in a lengthy conversation with someone for them to misunderstand or misinterpret what I was saying. I would then spend the next couple of hours trying to untangle myself from this unholy mess and try to salvage my friendship with that person at the same time. I had deduced that something was clearly going wrong. In my head, what I was writing was perfectly reasonable and made sense; the person at the receiving was somehow not “in tune” to what I was saying. I was tapping away at a tune that someone else didn’t recognise; to borrow Kruger’s wonderful analogy. Something was clearly at work here. The question was “what?“, then I found this article by Winerman (2006):

The reason for this communication disconnect, the researchers find, is egocentrism–the well-established social psychological phenomenon whereby people have a difficult time detaching themselves from their own perspectives and understanding how other people will interpret them.

It was here that Kruger’s research was able to fill in the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle for me. Quoting from the book: “Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home“, Jenkins (2007) adds a more disturbing relevation:

On email people aren’t quite themselves … they are angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous.

This “communication disconnection” has, in some circumstances, led to divorce; unemployment and even imprisonment. So on to week 2’s task looking at “the dark side of e-learning” where we were presented with six very different scenarios. Once some of the scenarios were down to some rather poor course design or ineffectual tutor who may not have been comfortable in their “digital skin” or has lacked the necessary understanding to know how to “pilot” a discussion board.

The most common issue is one of misunderstanding and misinterpretation where someone’s humour; irony; sarcasm has not been appreciated or realised. The absence of any physical and vocal cues has meant that people have been quick to round up the offending “miscreat” and castigate them for all their worth. The discussions boards have been metaphorically foaming at the mouth this week to the point of information overload on people’s thoughts, ideas, arguments and counter-arguments, much to Henry Keil’s dismay. We really do have a great bunch of people on board who are going at it with immense gusto. I enjoy reading Tony McNeill’s posting, given his rich and diverse background, he always comes up with something erudite and insightful. But it is Ali Press’s comment about the “cheeky student” that caught both mine and Tony’s eye:

She says that f2f she’d deal with it by laughing and telling the student to get to the library but online she felt as if the question was out of order. The question is either out of order both virtually and f2f or it isn’t – its nature doesn’t change because of the different communication medium.

It is precisely because the communication medium is different that the behaviour changes. Inside a classroom, the teacher has a “presence“. The students are in situ and are within eye and ear contact, so they moderate their behaviour accordingly. Online it is very different; it is glass, plastic. electrons and geography that separates the student from the tutor. In this world, they are bold and brash with their peers – they adopt a more bolder and daring personality and to them, this is quite normal. For the tutor, they have just stepped over the mark. We don’t have to make a big deal out of it, we just need to foster some respect and courtesy. We need to understand what our boundaries are. And lastly, we need to think before we send, or as my colleagues like to call it: pussyfooting.


Garrison, D.R., and Anderson, T., (2003). e-Learning in the 21st Century. London: RoutledgeFalmer

Jenkins, S., (2007). I’d rather mingle souls by letter than live a life of regret through email. The Guardian [online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2173963,00.html [Accessed 27 September 2007].

Kruger, J., Epley, N. et al, (2005). Egocentrism Over E-Mail: Can We Communicate as Well as We Think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(6), 925-936.

Leahy, S., (2006). The Secret Cause of Flame Wars. Wired [online]. Available at: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/02/70179 [Accessed 27 September 2007].

Winerman, L., (2006). E-mails and Egos. ScienceWatch [online], 37(2). Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb06/egos.html [Accessed 27 September 2007].