In terms of social presence, it is also important for teachers to establish academic netiquette and guidelines with their students for an online course. Netiquette is a set of rules or guidelines for appropriate academic behaviour in an online course. Virginia Shea (1994) in her book entitled Netiquette (short for 'Network Etiquette') has described ten core rules for guiding appropriate academic student behaviour in an online course.

netiquette

Observing good standards of courtesy and respect with other internet users.

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In the following activity, review the rules set out by Virginia Shea. Then, arrange the rules to reflect the order of importance you would give them in your own online course by selecting a panel and clicking on its correct position in the sequence. If you think there are any rules missing, click on the symbol at the bottom of the activity to add your suggested netiquette rule(s). If you think each of Shea's rules would be equally important for your course, focus on adding any rules that you think might be missing.
You will now be presented with the netiquette rules set out by Virginia Shea. Review each of the rules, then consider the order of importance you would give them in your own online course.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Being a successful online teacher
UNIT | 3 : Building an effective learning community
PAGE TITLE | Course netiquette and guidelines

Rule 1 of 10: Remember the human

Remember that you are communicating with other humans, not a computer screen. Stand up for yourself, but try not to hurt people's feelings.


Rule 2 of 10: Online and offline standards of behaviour

Remember: the same standards of ethics and personal behaviour that you follow offline also apply online.


Rule 3 of 10: Know where you are in cyberspace

Netiquette varies according to domain – social conversations in social media applications are very different to academic conversations in an online course. Lurk before you leap – spend time observing the tone of an academic conversation in your online course before 'jumping in'.


Rule 4 of 10: Respect other people's time and bandwidth

We are all busy people. It's your responsibility to ensure that the time others spend reading your postings isn't wasted.


Rule 5 of 10: Demonstrate good academic writing

You may be assessed on the quality of your writing – do check your spelling and grammar before clicking 'Submit'. Also, pay attention to the content of your writing. You may want to check your academic references before asserting that "it's my understanding that..." or "I believe it's the case..."


Rule 6 of 10: Share expert knowledge

Sharing your own personal knowledge in an online course can be very empowering.

When asking questions in an online course, be sure to summarise and share the responses.


Rule 7 of 10: Help keep flame wars under control

'Flaming' is the term used when people use a hostile or aggressive tone to express themselves in an online message. In an online course, discussion should focus on academic issues, not personality issues and conflicts.


Rule 8 of 10: Respect other people's privacy

Most of us now have digital profiles on the internet through our use of social media applications, from where it can be easy to obtain personal information about each other. Remember that the focus in an online course is on academic discourse rather than personal lives.


Rule 9 of 10: Don't abuse your power

Nobody appreciates a 'know it all' in an online course. Remember to 'seek to understand before being understood' in an online discussion forum.


Rule 10 of 10: Be forgiving of other people's mistakes

If you decide to inform an online classmate of a content, spelling or grammar mistake, inform them by private email rather than in the discussion forum. This is known as 'back-channeling' and is a useful strategy for problematic situations in online courses.

Source: Adapted from Shea (1994).

Source: Adapted from Shea (1994).
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You may want to encourage students to discuss these rules with each other and agree to them at the start of the course, perhaps as an icebreaker activity.

Moderating netiquette in discussion forums

The focus of dialogue in a higher education course should be on academic discourse but unfortunately many students have developed very informal digital communication habits through their use of text messaging and social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Thus, it is crucial that teachers model proper netiquette and academic standards in an online course.

social media

Communication media which allow for the creation of online communities and the sharing of information, ideas, personal messages, etc. Social media is used in online learning as a virtual 'hallway' for interaction and to foster collaborative learning.

How well practised are you at moderating netiquette? In the following activity you will be presented with examples of forum posts that break a netiquette rule. First, decide which netiquette rule each example post breaks by selecting the appropriate rule from the panel at the bottom of the activity. Then, click 'Next' to consider how you might respond to the posts. In each case, pause to consider your ideas before using the 'Click to view more' button to reveal our suggestions for an appropriate moderator response. Use the 'Next' button to move to the next example.
How well practised are you at moderating netiquette? You will now be presented with some examples of forum posts that break a netiquette rule. In each case, pause to think about how you would respond, then continue to reflect on our suggestion for the appropriate moderator response.

Useful links

This website provides an overview of nine themes related to digital...

Did you know?

If you have a student who is unable to conform to the boundaries between...

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Being a successful online teacher
UNIT | 3 : Building an effective learning community
PAGE TITLE | Course netiquette and guidelines

Example post 1 of 5:

"I think that Jayden's response is completely redundant. He clearly has not read all the source material or he would never come to such a naïve interpretation of the events."

How would you respond to this posting?

Our suggestion:

It is recommended that an online teacher reply to this posting in two ways.

First, in a private email message to the student who made the posting. In the email message, the online teacher should explain that the purpose of the discussion forum is to discuss and debate course related concepts – not to critique each other's study habits. An appropriate posting would be to ask Jayden to explain his response in more detail.

Second, in the message board. The teacher can remind the rest of the class that 'we are all human' and that the purpose of the online discussions is to learn from each other rather than to critique each other's study habits.


Example post 2 of 5:

"Hey everyone, so I can see from the pictures on FB that a good time was had at the campus mixer. Hahaha Maggie you were DEFINITELY having a good time. Lol! Anyway, here is my assignment posting: Enjoy!!"

Our suggestion:

Again, it is important to respond to this posting in a private email message and in the online discussion forum.

In the private email message remind the student that the focus of this course is on academic discourse not on revealing personal aspects of each other's lives outside of the course.

And, a similar reminder needs to be posted by the online teacher in the class discussion forum. "Just a gentle reminder that the focus of our online discussions is on academic discourse rather than on revealing personal aspects of each other's lives outside of the course."

If you have set up specific 'social forums' for your online course, you would also take this opportunity to remind them.


Example post 3 of 5:

"BTW, I think what Amiyah meant was that it has a bad 'effect' on the circumstances. Also it's not true that John Adams served two terms as president; it was only one."

Our suggestion:

In this case, the student needs some advice on how to rephrase the post, so that the point can still be made, but softened a bit. Raising questions is a good way to do this, e.g. "BTW – can I ask you Amiyah – did you mean that it has a bad 'effect' on the circumstances? Also is it true that John Adams served two terms as president; I read somewhere that it was only one."


Example post 4 of 5:

"Hey everyone, like I really thought that this week's assigned reading was 'right on'. Like, it made me feel good about myself and what I want to do in my life. What did you feel after reading it?"

Our suggestion:

Again, we would recommend responding to this posting in a discussion forum posting.

Remind the students that there should be an academic rather social tone to the discussions in the online course. The focus of the discussions should be on what students 'think' rather than 'feel' about the assigned course readings. Spend some time constructing and reflecting on your discussion forum postings rather than just posting your initial feelings. You could try responding with a question which ensures that the student moves beyond a subjective response to a more critical response, for example:

"Thank you for sharing that you like the reading and it's good to know that it has had a positive effect on how you feel. Could you now tell us what specific aspects of the reading caused you to have this positive response?"


Example post 5 of 5:

"Please take a moment to read and respond to my six page discussion forum posting."

Our suggestion:

We recommend that the online teacher reply to this posting in a private email and in the discussion forum.

In the private email, the teacher can thank the student for sharing her or his contribution but remind them that discussion forum postings should be as concise as possible. Shorter posts are more likely to be read than longer ones, so it's to the benefit of the student and possibilities for interaction if posts are short rather than long. If she or he would like feedback on a written assignment they are welcome to email it directly to you, the online teacher.

A similar response can then be posted to the discussion forum for all the students.

Download

Download a copy of the ten rules of netiquette. You might want to pin it by your...

These are some deliberately general examples of how to moderate academic netiquette in an online course. Learning environments can differ greatly, from the level of the students involved and the course learning outcomes to geographical differences which might influence how students communicate with each other. You will need to take all these into account when setting out rules and moderating netiquette in your course.

It is also important that these guidelines be co-created rather than imposed on the students in an online course.


Useful links

Did you know?

If you have a student who is unable to conform to the boundaries between academic and social discourse (i.e. continually making inappropriate comments in discussion forums), the following strategies can be utilised:

  1. Send a private email to the student reminding her or him of the guidelines for appropriate behaviour in the online course.
  2. If the behaviour continues, request a private Skype or phone call to discuss the issues and implications of the problem.
  3. In addition, if your institution has a student code of conduct policy you can refer the student to the policy and remind her or him of the implications if the inappropriate behaviour continues.

Download

Download a copy of the ten rules of netiquette. You might want to pin it by your desk, keep a copy in your Teaching Online portfolio and circulate it to your students. Don't forget to include any extra rules you added in the activity on this section!