Q. How do I establish etiquette in the online environment?


Updated: Jun 02, 2020

Etiquette guidelines or a social contract can be established by you before the class starts, or can be established via discussion among all participants at the first class, or a combination of the two.   Etiquette for online courses are largely the same kinds of rules as in an in-person class, but there are some different considerations when you are teaching and learning remotely. 

Some of these suggestions for guidelines, and others, may already be mandatory for your educational institution. 

  • Academic ethics and responsibility still apply:
    • Learners should know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it
    • Everyone should be encouraged to pause and think before sending an email or posting a comment: are you clearly communicating what you meant to communicate? Are you being considerate to others with the language and tone of your communication? Are there spelling errors, typos or grammatical errors that can be addressed?
    • Privacy, professional regulations, and local laws all apply and should be respected
    • Punctuality and meeting deadlines still matter
  • There is some nearly universally acknowledged online educational etiquette:
    • Anyone who will lead or facilitate any learning should get familiar with the technology ahead of time and test their equipment and set-up ahead of time.  Learners should also be encouraged to explore any programs, platforms or technology they will be expected to use before they will be needing to use it.
    • Swearing, slurs, insults, dog-whistling and other harassing language are not permissible
    • PUTTING COMMENTS IN ALL CAPS is not permissible, it signals that you are screaming at someone/everyone.
    • Sarcasm is all but impossible to read correctly, most recommendations are to disallow or discourage the use of sarcasm in written participation, like discussion boards or chat windows.
    • Forgiveness and flexibility are important; different people with different experiences with technology, school, learning etc. will come in with different ideas about “how to do it right” and what is good online behaviour in an educational setting.  Getting along and working productively is going to require that people forgive when a team member does a basically harmless thing “the wrong way”.

Other considerations:

  • How formal do you or does the group want to be? 
    • Are you aiming for “professional language only” or “academic language only”, and if so, what do you mean by that and who might be disproportionately impacted by this requirement? 
    • Are short-forms, acronyms, or emojis okay in written participation? 
    • Do you want different levels or kinds of formality in written participation versus oral or video participation? 
    • In video conferences, do you have expectations around appearance (Professional attire? Hair styling or makeup? Neutral background behind the participants?)
  • How do you want to keep discussion boards constructive and prevent exclusion, bullying, flame-wars, and pile-ons? 
    • Where do you divide “lively debate” from “confrontation”? 
    • At what point is someone dominating discussion or drowning out other voices? 
    • When will discussions be closed? With a time-limit? When everyone has had a chance to comment?
  • How do you and your learners understand “politeness” in an online space? Are there unspoken rules that anyone expects to be obeyed around:
    • When reply-all emails are appropriate?
    • Whether one should respond verbally or with visual signals to questions asked to the whole group on video conferences (ie is it okay to respond to “Does that make sense to everyone?” with a thumbs up to the camera or do you want to hear “yes” out loud)?
    • How quickly one should respond to emails or discussion forum posts or conversely how much time one should give to others to notice, read and respond to emails or posts. Keep in mind the other demands on everyone’s time, like child-rearing, work hours, etc.
    • Any other peeves you or your learners have around online communication?

Once you have decided on the rules or guidelines for your class, to encourage everyone to follow them, you can:

  • Communicate them clearly, provide a method for people to ask questions, seek clarification, or provide feedback on the guidelines
  • Place them somewhere easy for people to see and/or find for future reference
  • Touch back to see how people feel they are being adhered to and enforced and if there is a gap that needs to be addressed – make changes as needed
  • Provide feedback to learners about their etiquette
  • Use the technology tools available to you to help manage the experience


Technology aspects:

  • Use the moderation and other tools available to you to make online learning a better experience, for instance:
    • To limit distractions and audio problems in a video conference, put those not currently speaking on mute
    • Consider having an assistant or learner-volunteer manage questions coming in on chat during video conferences so that you can manage class time more effectively
    • Consider turning on “comment moderation” if it is available if you are concerned about the tenor of comments that are being posted. That way you, an assistant or a volunteer can identify harmful or unhelpful comments before they are publicly visible.
    • You can close comment submissions or delete harmful or unhelpful comments. Let participants know by what criteria you would decide to do so.
    • Some platforms make it possible for people to post things anonymously.  You may find that participants are braver about posting important questions if it can be done anonymously, but you may also find that some unkind or unhelpful comments are posted when the poster can hide behind anonymity.  If it is possible to turn that feature on or off, be deliberate about your decision and keep an eye on anonymous posts. 
  • Decide if/how you would like students to use different features or media and clearly communicate that to them, for instance:
    • Do you want them to use a “raised hand” feature in your video conferences? If so, for what?
    • Are there conversations or interactions that you either do not want to have on the class platform(s) or that you only want to have happen on the class platforms?  For instance you might want to restrict social conversations to off-platform communication, or you might want small-group-work to always take place on (or off) platform. 
    • When students have FAQ type questions like “what are the requirements for x assignment?” or “how do I access y resource?” do you want them to email you, post the question in a specific discussion forum, attend “office hours” to ask you directly, or post the question in the chat for conference classes?
  • Depending on the platforms and software that you are using it may be that it is possible for participants to communicate directly to a specific other person.  However, that may just mean that the alert only goes to that person, but the comments are visible to everyone in the class or on the platform.  Make sure that everyone is aware of how public everything is from the beginning of the class. 


More information: 

Netiquette - Instructional Resources - Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning - Memorial University
Fundamentals of online etiquette, particularly for online education, with practical recommendations and examples.

Proper Internet Etiquette - The Spruce
Brief article with tips for proper etiquette in online communication. 

11 Rules of Online Learning Netiquette - Stellenbosch Graduate Institute - The Digital Student Life blog
Brief post with tips for online etiquette in learning environments. 

Best Practices and Etiquette for Web Conferencing (PDF)
Whether you are learning or working from home, understanding best practices and etiquette for
web conferencing is important.
From The Michener Institute of Education at UHN

Video Conferencing - Meeting Etiquette Tips - Stanford University IT
Follow these meeting etiquette tips to make your video conferences more productive and enjoyable for all participants.

Zoom Meetings: Etiquette and Best Practices - University of Pittsburgh IT
Tips for hosting and attending Zoom video conferences.

The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings - The New York Times
"From setting a clear agenda to testing your tech setup, here’s how to make video calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues."

The How-Tos of Video Conferencing Etiquette - VastConference
Tips to help make your online meetings as effective, productive, and professional as possible.

Is "Professionalism" an Obstacle to Diversity and Inclusion? 
Marlo Goldstein Hode, LL.M., PhD, Senior Manager, Strategic Diversity Initiatives at University of Missouri-Saint Louis





Answered By: Melanie Anderson
Last Updated: Jun 02, 2020 Views: 61

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