Using Online Course Etiquette to Succeed in Online Classes

Almost everyone has a story about making an embarrassing e-mail mistake, like spelling something wrong or sending a confidential message to the wrong person, with dire consequences. I will never forget the time I sent a message to a potential interview subject and misspelled the word “public”; by leaving out one crucial letter, I turned my e-mail into something much less professional than I had planned!

Like all professional endeavors, successful performance in an online course depends on following certain standardized rules to achieve clear communication. This means that you need to combine both standard academic etiquette and Netiquette into the appropriate online course behavior, and use this in your regular communications between you, your professor, and your fellow students.

Traditional Academic Etiquette: These are the rules of standard conduct in any course, either online or on the ground. The course is a professional environment in which all participants are engaged in the creation of a positive learning experience. Netiquette are the basic rules of internet communication, and are similar to what you would use in any everyday interaction, with one exception: You must always remember that even though you are working in an electronic environment, you are still dealing with other people, with the same goals and concerns about their academic success. There are many websites that provide excellent guides to the rules of netiquette, including a comprehensive one offered by Delaware Technical and Community College.

    • Fulfill Your Work Responsibilities: It is imperative to complete and submit all your work on time in order to participate in the course appropriately. Online courses often include collaborative projects among students, and those who do not hold up their end of the assignment are unintentionally sabotaging the success of the other students. In addition, it will be immediately apparent to the professor that you have not completed the reading or other assignments, because your comments will be superficial or off-target.
    • Respect Others: This may be the most important rule of behavior in any course. The only way that the educational process can work, and allow for a free and open exchange of ideas, is to respect the words of others. Sarcasm and jokes often don’t translate in online written statements, and can be misinterpreted. It is also absolutely inappropriate to make judgmental comments about a person’s race, gender, age, appearance, religion or sexual orientation. Such comments can result in your expulsion from the course at the worst; at the least, they limit your interaction with others in the course, who may not take your contributions seriously. This will result in a poor grade in the course.

  • Use Formal Language: The increased use of text messaging has resulted in a tendency among students to treat all electronic communications the way they treat texts, and shorten, abbreviate, and use slang rather than grammatically appropriate language. But scholarly work must be expressed in formal academic language, meaning that it is imperative to use full sentences and check your spelling. This not only results in higher grades, it shows respect for the professor and the course.
  • Academic Honesty: Plagiarism and cheating is completely illegal in all academic work. It is unacceptable to copy material from a book, website, or other medium and submit it as your own original work. Similarly, your comments should be entirely your own. For example, in an online discussion, do not use the ideas or words of another as your own without attribution to the original source. This constitutes cheating, and can result in severe academic penalties.

What is Netiquette?  The basic rules of Netiquette are the same that you would use in any everyday interaction, with one exception:  You must always remember that even though you are working in an electronic environment, you are still dealing with other people, with the same goals and concerns about their academic success.  There are many websites that provide excellent guides to the rules of netiquette, including a comprehensive one offered by Delaware Technical and Community College.

Online Course Etiquette is the combination of traditional course etiquette and Netiquette in a new way to create an engaging and dynamic online learning environment. This is necessary because online courses rely on online communication to share course content, student work, and instructor feedback. The more aware you are of online course etiquette, and the more you use it, you more success you will have in your online academic work. In addition to the rules of traditional course etiquette and Netiquette listed above, these factors will raise the level of your online course etiquette:

  • Participation: Faculty members report that the more often students participate in their online courses, the more students learn. It is also apparent that the quality of your participation affects your overall success in the course. There are many ways to increase your class participation, but thorough and comprehensive comments based on specifics from assigned readings reinforce your learning and allow other students to comment on your work and interact with you.
  • Collaboration: Remember that online learning is often a joint project between different members of your online course community, including other students and the professor. Discussions are collaborative, as are group projects. To be truly collaborative, it is important to share information, reveal tips you may have discovered, and respect the ideas of others. But collaboration should be limited only to those enrolled in the course. It is not appropriate to share course information with those not enrolled in the course because the course content is intellectual property that belongs to the school or professor. Also, you do not have permission to share the work of others in the course.
  • Courtesy: The internet is a place where communication is often misunderstood. In addition to being respectful with your words, it is a courtesy to be generous in your assessments of what other people write. Sometimes it is hard to find the right words, and others may make mistakes. Extend the same benefit of the doubt to them that you would want for yourself. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable with what someone has written, do not confront them directly. Discuss the issue with your professor, who can then act as an intermediary between you and the other student. Flaming someone is not courteous, nor does it advance your learning. Discuss the issue with your professor, who can then act as an intermediary between you and the other student.It may seem that there are a lot of rules for participating in online courses. But just remember that there is one basic rule of thumb: Treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself. Remain calm, respectful, and enthusiastic, and you will get the most out of your course.

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