In the online classroom, it’s important that instructors set and enforce parameters around what is and is not appropriate behavior. By doing so, the classroom environment becomes open to respectful discourse and conducive to learning and collaboration in a way that encourages all students, regardless of background or opinion, to share and develop as a community of learners. Although this will look different from school to school or classroom to classroom, the foundation of this is built on a carefully crafted netiquette statement.
Netiquette, short for network or internet etiquette, is a set of social conventions that define what is and is not appropriate behavior in the online environment. Due to the physical separation of participants in an online classroom as well as the varying experience of individuals in this environment, there are behaviors that can occur that lessen the likelihood of a healthy online learning community developing. Although what is included in a netiquette statement isn’t always up to the individual instructor, there are a few guiding principles that can be employed to ensure civility:
- Follow standard communication rules: There are a number of conventions that are offensive or inappropriate in online communication, and the classroom is no exception. Whenever possible, avoid writing in all caps; using text speak, slang, or curse words; or including emojis or emoticons in your messages. Many of these conventions are acceptable in other forms of digital communication, but the online classroom is still an academic community and should be treated as such.
- Avoid sarcasm: Although a statement might seem funny to you, the reality is that written sarcasm can be extremely difficult to detect. Many an online argument has started because of a sarcastic statement that was misinterpreted, so it’s best to avoid writing these messages.
- Be respectful: When sitting behind a keyboard, it’s easy to forget that the messages you type are being read and received by another individual. Although it’s exciting to discuss a topic that means a lot to you, it’s important to remember that the classroom is an academic environment and that, as an instructor, it’s your role to ensure that all students feel comfortable expressing their opinions. Maintaining a willingness to protect not only opinions, but individuals, is a critical component of the online classroom.
Netiquette isn’t limited to formal student–student or instructor–student interactions either—it shows up in any online interaction. E-mails, LMS messages, discussion forums, and assignment feedback should all follow standard netiquette rules. In addition, when replying to students’ messages, it’s critical that one do so in both a timely manner and with the inclusion of a professional signature line. This helps convey a professional image, which can be important when interacting with students you might not see.
In these communications, it’s also important to remember student privacy. Student work can’t be shared without permission, nor can personal information about your students. This isn’t just good netiquette; it’s the law.
Although good netiquette is important to the success of online interactions, it’s important to note that bad netiquette has some major implications, too. If a student is ridiculed for his or her ideas, communication style, or other qualities, it’s likely that he or she will shy away from sharing again. By distracting individuals from the quality of education itself, the classroom as a whole suffers. Setting expectations regarding appropriate behavior and fairly enforcing these expectations isn’t a formality; it’s a way of ensuring that the online classroom is a safe place to exchange ideas and opinions.