Online classrooms usually have four component parts: the forum for daily or weekly participation; live, real-time instructor-student chat sessions for questions and discussion; instructor-uploaded course information to be read, studied, discussed; and electronic assignment or essay submission. Starting with the last in the list, the rule is to learn to use the assignment/essay upload feature; meet all assignment/essay requirements; make all deadlines and discuss difficulties with the instructor through the classroom private messaging system. The same applies for the instructor-uploaded course information: read it, study, learn it, ask for clarification or discussion on points you have questions or confusion about.
When it comes to forum-style postings, the rules are standard forms of courtesy and civility applied to written postings. It is easy in an online electronic environment to think you can be outspoken, disrespectful, curt, rude, demonstrative but thinking this is a grave mistake. Electronic forums is where kindness and courtesy is the etiquette and the rule. You may disagree with someone and state your disagreement, but it must be with tempered emotion and even-tempered expressions. You are participating in a civil, academic environment and you must add to the academic discussion in a civil, educated tone and manner. Ways to disagree are with phrases like the following:
- "While I understand Ms. X's remarks, I find weaknesses in her reasoning on two points. As I see it, these are ...."
- "Though the above comments express a commonly held belief, if you'll recall page 1423 of the text, you'll note the authors said .... which tends to refute ...."
- "A recent study presents evidence that actually contradicts the remark Mr. N made about .... I'll quote a little bit of the study: [quote]"
These and methods of addressing disagreement are all straightforward and clear disagreement yet are respectful and point to evidence to the contrary instead of pointing to a co-student's intelligence, veracity or importance. Chat, though quick-paced, calls for similar hedging of your remarks with courtesy and respect and kindness. Remember, someone might disagree with what you say, and you won't want your confidence shot out from under you by unkind, uncivil remarks or a hostile attitude (this etiquette and these rules apply to the instructor as well).
The rules of online class etiquette are similar to the rules of etiquette in live classes. Students should make the appropriate request for recognition before speaking or typing. In the online environment, the equivalent of raising one's hand may be to press a certain button or to type a certain phrase. In addition, students should maintain awareness of the questions and comments of their peers and instructors. In the online environment, it may be difficult to maintain focus, as daily distractions are more prevalent when working from a home environment. It is important that students not allow themselves to "zone out," and miss critical information. Students should not log in and out repeatedly and should take care that their technological resources are efficient and working properly prior to the beginning of class.
I have taught online courses for about a decade now. One of the most important rules of etiquette is that you have to be very careful what you say, because the person you are talking to cannot see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice. You do need to be a part of the discussion. However, you have to be always very tactful. Avoid loaded language. Here is an example.
I can’t believe you said that Apple’s marketing plan is creative! I have never seen anything so juvenile in my life. It is totally stupid stuff.
You can see how this would be offensive, both to the person who posted and to others in the class. This kind of response puts everyone on guard. The entire class is likely to go quiet, and people will start to talk less and less. The learning environment has become caustic.
Instead, you need to disagree gracefully or not at all. You can provide an alternative point of view without actually disagreeing. Let’s say someone has posted about the ingenuity of Apple’s marking plan. Instead of contracting the person, focus on describing a marketing plan that you do think is good.
Also, please proofread and use spell check. The best thing to do is type your responses in a word processor and paste them in.