Helping students develop proper internet etiquette

Student working at home on laptop

If you enjoyed Downton Abbey as much as me, you might think of etiquette as knowing how to set a table worthy of a stately dinner. But that kind of etiquette might not be so useful in an online course, unless we’re studying the Edwardian era!

In the context of online teaching and learning, it’s more appropriate to think about the etiquette involved in engaging others in conversations and providing guidelines for smartphone use than how to handle a dinner guest’s dietary restrictions. We want to apply the best practices of etiquette to every interaction in the course.

Netiquette (net + etiquette) is the “code of conduct” applied to online spaces. Teaching students about netiquette is just as important (if not more so) as teaching them to use technology or master content.

Crafting a netiquette document or post for your class and informing your students about the importance of these rules can help you create an engaging, respectful, and meaningful learning environment.

If hosting lectures or office hours live online, you might want to include guidelines for expectations around arriving on time, reducing noise by using earphones and the mute button, and minimizing distractions the best they can.

Keep in mind that students might have their children or siblings home from school or day care and some flexibility and understanding might need to be extended during this season.

Another area for need of netiquette guidelines is in the use of discussion boards. I often share things like this with my students:

  • Use proper language. This means no emoticons, text message language, or swear words. The discussion board is like a workplace and is meant to be professional.
  • Run a spelling and grammar check before posting anything to the discussion board. This is especially important if your instructor is grading these comments.
  • Read through your comments at least twice before hitting submit. (Some professors use settings that allow students to edit their responses, while others don’t.)
  • Don’t type in ALL CAPS! If you do, it will look like you are screaming.
  • Recognize and respect diversity. It’s ok to ask questions to clarify things you don’t understand. If you’re not sure, email the professor privately for more information.
  • Avoid sarcasm and dark humor. Take your posts seriously. Never say online what you wouldn’t say in real life to another person’s face. Your posts are a permanent record, so think about the type of record you want to leave behind.
  • If you are frustrated and finding the course material difficult, please reach out to the professor, use the tutor resources, etc. You can ask your peers for study tips. A discussion board is not the venue to complain about why you need to take this course or how hard you have to work.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute to make your post. Allow time for other students to respond before the deadline. Likewise, don’t wait to post your replies until the deadline; the author deserves an opportunity to address any questions you have or respond to points you make.
  • Before asking a question, check the instructor’s FAQs or search your Learning Management System resources and/or the internet to see if the answer is obvious or easy to find.
  • Be forgiving. If your classmate makes a mistake, whether it’s a typo or grammatical error, don’t badger him or her for it. Just let it go.
  • The same rules apply for email. “Hey, teach, heeeelp!” is probably not the best way to ask your professor a question. You should communicate with your professor in the same way that you would speak to your boss or a potential employer. Also, any email you send your professor should always include your name and which class you are in.

While it is tempting to think we should only have to focus on content, surveys of Fortune 500 company CEOs over the years have resulted in very similar responses: they want students who can communicate clearly, collaborate well, think critically, etc.

We know those skills are being developed and enhanced in our courses everyday, so it’s worthwhile to spend some time encouraging them to be respectful, contributing members of our online course communities.

About the author
Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister

Diane Hollister has been teaching college courses since 1992. In June 2015, she resigned from her full-time position at Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania, where all the math courses have undergone some level of redesign. She still teaches online there and now is part of Pearson’s Efficacy team, helping instructors to implement programs and strategies that bolster student success.

She is intrigued by neurobiological research and learning theory, and she was quick to adopt adaptive learning as a new tool in her courses. Not only does she strive to help her students succeed, but Diane enjoys the collaboration with her peers. She has taught a variety of courses and loves learning how new technology and resources can help students be more successful.