Modeling manners online

I have been teaching online over the last couple of years, and the classes are getting bigger. This means – more students, more TAs, more google hangouts, more interaction. In this burgeoning environment it is always interesting to see where and when points of friction between the physical world and the virtual one need to be smoothed out.

Manners and appropriate behavior are easier to manage in a F2F world, largely because, as anyone with a puppy or a 3-year old knows, you have to correct in the moment. That is a bit more difficult online. As much as we try to inject synchronicity, and as quick as we are to respond,  a carefully worded response on the discussion board or email simply isn’t the same a quick tug on the leash (of the puppy! not the 3-year old…)

Where to go with that desire to tug when a student tests your patience? Go inward and be calm. What to do with that perfect, pithy, sarcastic retort you have to the 18th student to pose the same question on the board? Go inward and be calm. And then point them to the place where you answered the question earlier. What about the student who rudely calls out a TA for being mean? Go inward and be calm. And then approach that student privately and address his or her concerns, and remind them of how to engage in a public forum. Nobody wins with snark. Especially online.

You and I know that our discussion boards are not like reddit streams, and that here everyone’s name belongs to the student in the class.  But some of our students’ first experiences with chat boards were on slightly different, often more vitriolic sites. And other students have never joined a chat board, so they don’t know what the social norms of it are at all.

This is where modeling is still key. We need to model the communication tone, and the syntax, and even the content. In fact, we should probably always be modeling. Model for the students (respond quickly, respond succinctly, stick to deadlines) and model for the TAs (be kind, be understanding, assume the best).

This quarter I realized that establishing a written code of conduct would help in bolstering this approach, and it would also add more transparency, especially in terms of what constitutes “class participation”, which is so closely tied to interaction in class.

I am replicating what I posted on the course page below. When I posted it I asked for student input, and everyone seemed okay with this, but please comment below with insight and input!


Believe it or not, an online course creates a pretty solid community. We may not be in a physical classroom together, but we are together in this. This means that the same rules of civil behavior and social engagement are in place. Below are protocols and best practices for the proper and professional conduct required in this class.

  1. Treat everyone with respect and you too shall be respected
  2. Discussion boards are public – so make sure your posts are clear and appropriate
  3. Comment sections on uploaded assignments are not Yelp – you can ask for clarification, but you cannot demand change.
  4. Office hours on google hangout: just as you would knock or wait to be invited into a TAs or professor’s office – say “hello” and “how are you?” to your TAs or Professor and wait for them to ask you how they can help you.
  5. Don’t be rude, offensive or aggressive. That sort of behavior is inappropriate in any venue. If you do behave that way, you will be muted, then booted and you should expect disciplinary action.
  6. Online does not mean pajamas: this is a class, and it is a pre-professional environment. You may be wearing pajamas, but it is inappropriate for anyone on camera to be aware of it. So dress appropriately and sit at a table – no slouching in a sofa, no lying on beds. Remember – you are in class!
  7. Attention matters — be engaged with what you are doing, minimize the multi-tasking while in a live hangout/discussion. You are in a learning environment – so focus. Watching the lecture while waiting for the microwave popcorn to be done is possible, but it may not be the best use of your time. And doing the quiz with the TV is on will require extraordinary powers of concentration.

What does attendance and participation online mean?

(a relevant guide for online discussion sections)

Attendance online is quite similar to presence in a face-2-face class: in both cases you pretty much need to show up. You also need to stick around. So in order to get your attendance points – you need to stay in the discussion section for its duration. If you come in really late – like 15 minutes into the session, or you leave early – you won’t get attendance points – it’s that simple.

Participation works the same way: if you don’t participate, you don’t get a participation grade. Participation, at minimum, requires that you have your mic and camera on. That is how we know you are actually there! Once you are visible and hearable – we will also need you to answer questions and ask questions– be part of the conversation.

Multi-tasking in the online discussion: this is never a good idea. if you are playing candy crush online while the camera is on you – two things will happen:

1. we will probably notice and call you on it (you will lose participation and attendance points) and

2. you will lose candy crush lives.

Is it really worth the risk?

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