"Netiquette" is a term describing how to interact clearly and respectfully with others in an online environment.  

As more and more classes include online discussions, it becomes more and more important for instructors to understand the rules of etiquette that, when followed, help make the individual postings easy to follow, keep conversation threads focused, and the overall discussion on-track. Unregulated, an online discussion can quickly disintegrate into a tangled web of extraneous verbiage, rude language, and inconsiderate behavior guaranteed to derail the conversation. The basic premise is that the etiquette expected of your students in online discussions is the same as that which you expect in a classroom. There is a problem, though: the absence of visual and auditory clues. In face-to-face discussions these clues contribute a lot of nonverbal nuances of meaning. It's impossible to replicate these nonverbal cues in an online environment.

To counteract that shift, to raise general awareness, and to help you enhance the learning experience of your students, here are some online discussion rules to include in your syllabus. Notice that most of them are just as applicable in face-to-face discussions.

  • Participate: This is a shared learning environment. No lurking in the cyberspace background. It is not enough to login and read the discussion thread of others. For the maximum benefit to all, everyone must contribute.
  • Avoid Repetition: Read everything in the discussion thread before replying. This will help you avoid repeating something someone else has already contributed. Acknowledge the points made with which you agree and suggest alternatives for those with which you don’t.
  • Use Proper Writing Style: The academic environment expects higher-order language. Write as if you were writing a term paper. Correct spelling, grammatical construction and sentence structure are expected in every other writing activity associated with scholarship and academic engagement. Online discussions are no different. Avoid profanity. 
  • Cite Your Sources: Another big must! If your contribution to the conversation includes the intellectual property (authored material) of others, e.g., books, newspaper, magazine, or journal articles—online or in print—they must be given proper attribution.
  • Respect Diversity: It’s an ethnically rich and diverse, multi-cultural world in which we live. Use no language that is—or that could be construed to be—offensive toward others. Racists, sexist, and heterosexist comments and jokes are unacceptable, as are derogatory and/or sarcastic comments and jokes directed at religious beliefs, disabilities, and age. We all come with different perspectives, so please be respectful and resist the urge to tell anyone they are wrong. Understand they have had different life experiences and all of our world views are simply different.
  • No YELLING! Using bold upper-case letters is bad form, like stomping around and yelling at somebody (NOT TO MENTION BEING HARD ON THE EYE).
  • Remember, You Can't Un-Ring the Bell: Language is your only tool in an online environment. Be mindful. How others perceive you will be largely—as always—up to you. Once you've hit the send button, you've rung the bell. Review your written posts and responses to ensure that you’ve conveyed exactly what you intended. This is an excellent opportunity to practice your proofreading, revision, and rewriting skills—valuable assets in the professional world for which you are now preparing. Read your post out loud before hitting the send button. This will tell you a lot about whether your grammar and sentence structure are correct, your tone is appropriate, and your contribution clear or not.


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