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Don't Be "That Guy" In Your Online Classes: Online Student Etiquette

Mar 31, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

An online classroom environment is very different from what you find in a traditional classroom. You communicate almost entirely in writing—and misunderstandings can happen more frequently than they do in person, because you don’t have the crutch of body language to help interpret someone’s remarks. You may feel relatively anonymous, sitting alone behind your computer screen, but you aren’t—and you shouldn’t behave that way. Here are a few tips for online student etiquette that will keep you from being “that guy” who annoys the other students in the class, perhaps without meaning to.


Don’t shout in the discussion forums

Avoid using all capital letters when you write in the forums or in your emails. This is generally considered bad form. Also avoid using capital letters if you want to make an emphatic point—it sounds like angry shouting in writing, even if your purpose was only to make something stand out. Always conform to standard rules of grammmar.

Don’t leave the group work to your other classmates

Respect Sign




Even working remotely, you may be assigned some team homework while you’re in class. And maybe you have kids and a demanding job—and it can be tempting to lean on the others in your team. Don’t. Even if they don’t seem to have as many demands on their time, they won’t look favorably on you doing less than your share of the work. Do your fair share of the work and don’t ask others to take on more of a burden.

Don’t ever send an email without taking some time to think about it

In an online classroom environment, you’ll be using email to communicate with your instructors and peers a great deal. Sending an email—especially one where you bring up a contentious point or offer criticism—can be tricky. You might come off much more strongly than you intend to, risking hurt feelings on the receiving end. Give yourself at least a few hours to let the email sit before you send it.

Don’t make sarcastic comments

If your normal sense of humor is a bit sarcastic, tone it down a lot in forums and in online communications. In person, your body language gives people cues as to how to interpret what you say, and they are more likely to pick up on the fact that you’re kidding when you make a critical comment. In writing, people don’t have the same cues. You could risk offending people who don’t realize you’re joking. Most of us aren’t as funny as we think we are—so save the caustic humor for when you meet your classmates in person.

Don’t flame

The Internet is a more anonymous environment than the real world. Many people feel empowered by the relative facelessness of the Internet to be more aggressive than they would dare be in real life. If something makes you angry in your classes, do not “flame” on your forums—don’t make aggressive and overwhelmingly negative comments. An online class is not an anonymous environment; your classmates will remember you and may work in the same industry as yours in a few years, and even in class you’ll need to avoid burning bridges. Always keep your comments civil.

Be a part of the group

Don’t stay quiet. Contribute to the discussions online. Students learn from each other as much as from the instructor, and you probably have valuable things to say. Quiet students don’t get as much from the online learning experience as students do who are willing to dive in and participate.

The online college environment isn’t hard to navigate—but you’ll have to keep a few things in mind that you may not have thought of in traditional classroom environments. Get used to communicating in writing, always tone down your language and think about critical emails before you send them. Tone down your humor as well, especially if your particular brand of humor is sarcastic. And be a full, participating member of the group—don’t let your classmates take on the brunt of group work or discussion. Your classmates and instructors may work in your industry in a few years—and even in school, it’s important to make a good impression.



John Thompson Over a year ago

I'd suggest revising the approach here so that it's "do" rather than "don't" to put a more positive spin on things. Don't you think that would be better received? :-)

MarcilCAD Over a year ago

No to mention the article implies only "guys" can lack etiquette. Either that or it assumes only guys take online classes? My wife is doing 2 of her computer engineering classes online, so it can't be that. lol.

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