Proper conduct in an online course format is just as important as face-to-face courses.  Instructors should provide responses to learners within 24 hours for email and direct questions. An important consideration in an online space is that many learners come to it as a new experience. So outlining proper communication and course expectations is important to support the learning of the class.

In a face-to-face class for the first meeting, instructors bring the printed syllabus, do an ice-breaker activity or introductions, establish classroom rules, go over the syllabus, converse with the class, and explain details. Most instructors do not assume that learners immediately grasp the scope and sequencing of a course, so these instructors explain and ask learners what sections are unclear. Online, instructors should try to avoid sarcasm or satire, as online dialogue does not have the advantage of facial expression or tone of voice. Online learners should follow this guideline also. In an online class, explaining and establishing the norms and locations of information are also key to promoting learning.

Communications should also be focused and as brief as reasonable. Sample guidelines include the following:  

  • Use proper grammar, and avoid using slang. Be clear in communication. 

  • Use a respectful tone. If someone says something that doesn’t come across well, ask for clarification before assuming the worst.

  • Establish ground rules, and remind learners that they want to call their colleagues into dialogue rather than calling them out or cancelling them.

  • Discussion Boards - Provide prompting questions; establish length of post in word count; indicate the number of posts to which learners should respond; provide timelines and deadlines.

  • Email - Address people as they would like. The instructor should be addressed as “Dr. M” or “Instructor Q.” Focus emails on one question or topic. 

  • Live Sessions - Learners should login a few minutes prior to the start of the session to ensure that their connection and equipment work properly. Set the microphone to Mute when not speaking. Wear appropriate clothing. Use professional language: no swearing, no name-calling.

  • Respect the privacy of your classmates and what they share in class.

  • Ask classmates for clarification if you find a discussion posting offensive or difficult to understand.

  • Avoid sweeping generalizations. Back up your stated opinions with facts and reliable sources.

  • Understand that we may disagree and that exposure to other people’s opinions is part of the learning experience. When you disagree, express your differing opinion in a respectful, non-critical way. Do not make personal or insulting remarks.

  • Be aware of cultural differences. Avoid unexplained references that may not be understood or cause feelings of exclusion.

  • Be respectful of each other. We’re all in this together. Before posting a comment, ask whether you would be willing to make the same comment to a person’s face.

  • Keep in mind that everything you write, indeed every click of your mouse is recorded. On the Internet there are no take backs.

  • Keep in mind that you are taking a college class. Something that would be inappropriate in a traditional classroom is also inappropriate in an online classroom.

Online Communication

  • Be aware that typing in all capital letters online indicates shouting. Instead, use bolding, italics or *asterisks* to indicate text to be emphasized.

  • Be careful with humor and sarcasm because without hearing your tone of voice, it may be misunderstood.

  • Review all discussion postings and replies before posting your own to prevent redundancy. Don’t repeat someone else’s post without adding something of your own to it. Include why you agree or add to the previous point.

  • When replying to a posting, quote the part of the original posting to which you are replying to help classmates understand the context.

  • Check your writing for errors by reviewing what you’ve written before submitting it. Spelling and grammar are important.

  • Acronyms (LOL, etc.) and emoticons (smilies) are commonly used online, but be careful not to overuse them.

  • Stay on topic. Don’t post irrelevant links, comments, thoughts or pictures.

  • Many communications with your instructor or fellow students are best handled through email. Only post on the classroom discussion board if the conversation is relevant to others in the class.

Sources and Relevant Links

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