Technology is changing the way we communicate, as well as the way we learn. The Internet has made online learning almost instant: students can interact with each other through e-mail, online chat, and other communication software. For both students and teachers, it is important to set rules for how classmates and instructors interact with each other online, ie, they need to have some kind of “etiquette” in the online learning and teaching process.
The rules for online teaching and learning shouldn’t be all that different than those for a physical classroom. Courtesy and attention are essential, but online interaction requires a few specific rules to make the experience valuable—even fun—for everyone involved.
Mind your manners. It’s okay for conversation and correspondence to be informal, but make sure everyone observes courtesy: students should address instructors the way they would in class, both in online chats and in e-mails. Instructors should take care to give their students the same respect and attention they would in the classroom as well. If students don’t have a university e-mail address, creating a neutral address is best. Something like firstname.lastname@example.org might not be the best choice when corresponding with teachers and school administrators.
Respect social network boundaries: Twitter and Facebook are excellent tools for online teaching and learning. But social networking sites are also places where people interact in ways that aren’t necessarily appropriate for the classroom. Before adding classmates and instructors to their social networks, students should ask themselves if their photos, posts, or tweets might be distracting or offensive. Creating Twitter and Facebook accounts specifically for classroom interactions could help students and instructors avoid potentially embarrassing situations.
Keep it short. For both e-mail and online chat, short is sweet. For group chats, a quickly moving conversation can be slowed or even stopped by long comments. Classroom discussions work best when one person isn’t dominating the conversation, so both teachers and students should take care to keep things moving and give everyone a chance to participate. For correspondence, long e-mails can be difficult to follow if there’s a long response thread.
Stay on topic and on time. Online teaching and learning ensures that the world is quite literally at our fingertips: a Google search or a shared link to an article can lead to sharing links that have little to do with the discussion or assignment. Taking care to share links and information related to the subject at hand is imperative. Likewise, time limits and deadlines for assignments and other class projects should be firm—students should not expect instructors to loosen class requirements just because a portion of the class takes place online.
Teaching and learning online can be an exciting way to keep students engaged and interested in class material. But, just as in a physical classroom, a set of rules and boundaries should be set to ensure that everyone makes the most of the experience.
About the author: Melissa is an avid blogger who is currently earning her Master’s Degree in criminal justice online.