COW is the electronic communication board used at Fermilab for the LInC Online courses. You may not be using the same tool. If you are not, the following page will not need to be used.



You need to be a registered COW user.
Web browser on your computer


To communicate with other participant(s) and facilitator(s)

COW Tutorial Table of Contents

COW Overview

COW is an easy-to-use conferencing tool that you use with your Web browser.

Developed by Eric Klavins, San Francisco State University's Web Conferencing System, COW (Conferencing on Web), is a freeware program intended to enable its participants to conference with one another.


COW provides a permanent discussion area where you can post ideas, questions, responses, comments, and suggestions at your convenience. This form of communication has many advantages including:

  • It allows you to ask questions and make comments as soon as you have them and at any time or day during the week. You don't have to wait until class time to ask a question or a receive an answer. This can be a great help when you are having a problem that is impeding your progress. You can also participate in discussions when you are most productive. For some people this may be at 6 A.M. For others, this may be at 10 P.M.
  • It creates an organized "library" of past responses. You can go directly to information and resources from past postings by browsing through the COW topics and subtopics (conversations). You don't have to sift through hundreds of old e-mail messages to find that great resource you remember seeing.
  • It provides a searchable library of past responses. This library of past responses allows you to share with others and learn from the questions and responses of other participants. You may have a question that someone has already asked and answered in COW. Or you may be able to respond to other people's questions to tell them about your experiences.
  • It allows for reflection time before posting. (In a face-to-face conversation, you would not have this time.)


COW is organized into three main levels. The first level is the conference level; your facilitator will probably have already set up the class conference. Each conference is organized into topics, (the second level), where the main discussion topics are contained. These topics may be about your projects, how you are doing on the activities, or a way for you to obtain help for any questions you might have. The third level contains subtopics, which are called "conversations," relating to your project, engaged learning, staff development technical skills or other areas of interest. These conversations will contain participant and facilitator messages about the subtopic or conversation being discussed.



Why Are We Using COW?

This type of tool is very useful for:

  • Sharing tips, ideas, and resources (like useful Web sites) with each other as you discover them.
  • Posting technical and engaged learning questions you have as you have them. Other participants and facilitators can then post responses to these questions.
  • Reflections.
  • Homework assignments.
  • Suggestions.
  • Requests for online or face-to-face discussion topics.

It is recommended that you review COW several times per week. Unlike other forms of communication, you will not know when people have submitted answers and questions. By checking this site on a frequent basis, you will utilize COW to a greater degree and benefit from the responses.

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Getting Started in Cow

Using the URL: you will see a Web page titled: Fermilab Web Conferencing System. Your facilitator should already have registered you with an account and have given you a login and password. You might want to "bookmark" the URL. Since you do not have to enter COW from this tutorial, making a bookmark will enable you to enter COW faster and easier. If you have problems using COW, review this tutorial and check out the COW tips. If this does not work, contact your facilitator.


Once you have arrived at the COW Web page, click on . You will then see a login window asking you to fill in your name and password. Fill in the login and password provided by your facilitator.

Then you will see page.

This is your personal conference page. Click on the link to your conference for your course. (Consult your facilitator if you are unsure.) You will then see a welcome message to your course. The facilitator may have included a description of the conference and guidelines about admissible subject matter.


The first time you use COW, use the button to:

  • Change your password from the one your facilitator gives you to one you will remember.
  • Create your personal profile.

This Profile button opens a page that enables you to change your password, indicate or edit your real name and create and/or edit your own personal information page within COW. Enter what you want to say in the text box and follow the directions provided.

If you are a beginning user of COW, you may wish to try making some practice postings in the "Test" conference. It is provided for just that purpose.

If at any point you wish more information than provided here in this tutorial, go to the help page to learn more--it's a great resource.


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Reading Messages in COW

Once you have entered your conference, you will see the topics listed by number and the number of messages under each topic name. The number in the "New" column is the number of new messages that you have not yet read.


Click on the topic you are interested in seeing. You will see a new window listing the subtopics, called conversations. The example below is for the topic: Technical Skills. You see conversations on COW Tips, Finding Information, etc.






Notice that you see four columns: the number, the total messages, the new messages and the conversation name. The number in the first column just refers to the conversation number. The "Total Messages" gives the number of responses (old and new) posted to the conversation. "New Messages" refers to those responses that you have not yet read. If you want to review all the responses, you must click on the "Read all . . ." in the "Total Messages" column. This is very important to remember especially if you want to refer back to past messages.

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Writing Messages in COW

You have changed your profile and password, bookmarked the URL for COW on your browser, read messages already posted in COW and are ready to respond to a topic or subtopic. You may wish to try making some practice postings or replies to the "Test" conference provided for those learning COW.

If you are writing a long message in COW and your Internet connection is sometimes unreliable, we suggest you write your message first in plain text in a word processor (and SAVE). Then you can copy and paste this text directly into the COW without fear of losing your connection (and text) part way through your posting.

Please take a moment to decide where your message should be appear in COW. If it is a response to an existing conversation, please find that conversation and respond to it. This will make it easier for you and others to find the messages when you want to view again later. Since all responses to a single conversation are placed on one Web page, responding to the intended conversation will also make it possible to print out all the responses by printing one Web page instead of several.

If you are writing a response that belongs in an existing conversation (subtopic), please first find the COW page for that conversation and respond in the reply box on that page. You may need to use your browser's back button to browse through the needed COW topics and conversations (subtopics).

If your message does not pertain to an existing conversation (subtopic), then find the topic to which your message relates and start a new conversation (subtopic) in that topic. If you don't see an appropriate topic for your new conversation, you can ask your facilitator to create a new topic.

Instructions for creating both of these types of new messages are included below.

Replying to an existing conversation:

If you click on a conversation you will see this window at then end of the posted responses. Type in your response where you see your reply.

Do not hit the return at the end of each line. The software will do this for you. Only hit the return if you wish to control the line length for some reason, such as starting a new paragraph or making a list.

When finished typing your reply or message, look underneath the reply area and you will see three buttons. If you would like to preview what your response will look like when it is posted, click on preview reply. Double check your content and your spelling. If you like what you see, click the back button on your browser to return to the page where you were typing your response. If you liked what you saw, click on the submit reply button to submit your message. If instead, you want to edit your message after previewing it, continue editing the text in the reply box and try again. You can use the undo typing button below the box as needed to undo the last thing you typed.

If you decide your posting belongs in a different conversation or topic, please copy the text of your message, use your browser's back button to find the appropriate topic and conversation, and then paste your response into the reply box on that COW Web page.

Starting your own conversation: If you would like to create a new conversation instead of responding to one, go back to the list of conversations and on the bottom of the page you will see a series of buttons. Click on Start New. This will enable you to create a conversation of your own. You will see a new page headed Start a new conversation. You can enter your text in the window entitled Your Post. You will need to enter a title in the window marked Title of your post. You can preview and submit the same as you can do when you reply to a message.


Including a link, image or e-mail address in a message: If you include URLs or e-mail addresses in your post, they will appear as active links. If you post a URL that is an image, the image itself will appear in the post. Remember to enter all URLs starting with http:// and don't hit return or space in the middle of a URL!

Moving, Removing, or Hiding a Message

Unfortunately, you can not remove a message once it has been posted or submitted. However, you can hide the contents of a message from other participants and then repost a new message in the desired location. When you read messages you will see a [hide/unhide] link after the date at the top of each message. Just click the link and follow the instructions. The response will then show as "Hidden by author" to other participants.

Note: you can only use this tool on your own responses! We wouldn't want people to hide other people's responses.


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Searching in COW


Use the COW search! If you do not want to look through all the responses, this is a timesaver. Go to the Conference welcome page listing the topics and numbers. Near the bottom but above the buttons you will see the words: [COWSearch]: Search This Conference. Click on COWSearch. You will then see this window.


Type in what you want to find out and click the search button. Or you can search by topic by clicking in the square in front of "only search topic" and selecting the topic from a list of all the topics from this course and clicking the search button. You may adjust the number of returns and can limit these by modifying the information by clicking on case sensitive match, logical OR and AND. This is great if you are having problems and want to know if there are answers already posted on the same topic. MAKE USE OF THIS!!


COW Tips

One of the most frequent problems using COW is not remembering your password. Try to use a combination of letters and numbers that you will not forget. Avoid using birth dates, common names, words that can be found in the dictionary, and home addresses. If you have other resources requiring a password, use the same one or vary it slightly. Major businesses change passwords frequently. You don't need to do this unless someone knows your username and password and you think you should change it.

Another problem is the difference between "Total Messages" and "New Messages." Total refers to the number of submitted responses and New refers to those responses you have not read yet. This can be confusing, especially if you want to view all the responses to a certain conversation. WATCH THIS.

Remember that NEW only refers to the number of responses submitted since you have read the postings. COW keeps track of when you have visited each area and will let you know if more participants have posted responses. If you need to look at all the responses, click on the link under "Total Messages." You can then view those responses you have already read and new postings.

You can also refine your viewing by using


When responding to a conversation, remember to follow the directions on Writing messages in COW. In many cases, you will want to respond to an existing conversation. If you click on the Start New button, you will be creating a new conversation for participants to respond to. Remember to check back frequently for new responses.

Hiding a Response--OOPS! You posted in the wrong spot or you just hate what you said! You can hide (and unhide) your posts and responses. Take a look at a conversation listing that you posted to in the past. After where it lists the date there will be a [hide/unhide] link. Just click it and follow the instructions. The response will then show as "Hidden by author" to other participants.

Note: You can only use this tool on your own responses! We wouldn't want people to hide other people's responses. The exception to this is that a conference administrator may hide/unhide any post or response in her own conference, in case something gross or disgusting is posted.

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Help! Help! Help!

This page may not contain all of the possible hints that you need. Do not despair; further assistance is available. Consult the help page to learn more.