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To post, or not to post: A lesson in netiquette

By Beverly Randolph Fernandez, M.A. | January 22, 2018

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Have you ever typed something, sent it and then wish you hadn’t? Or have you sent something that unintentionally offended the recipient? In the online classroom, there isn’t a “delete” button! Just as with any public forum, rules have been developed that govern how discussions should be carried out in the online world, known as “netiquette.”

You want your messages to be well-received and make positive impressions, right? In the virtual classroom instructors and students seldom meet in person, so they lack the opportunity to read body language and other non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. The following rules are adapted from Virginia Shea's The Core Rules of Netiquette.

Rule 1: Remember the human

When communicating electronically, practice the “Golden Rule:” Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Remember, your written words are read by real people, all deserving of respectful communication. Before you press "send" or "submit," ask yourself, "Would I be okay with this if someone else had written it?"

Rule 2: Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life

While it can be argued that standards of behavior may be different in the virtual world, they certainly should not be lower. Do your best to act within the laws and ethical manners of society whenever you inhabit "cyberspace."

Rule 3: Know where you are in cyberspace

When you enter a domain of cyberspace that's new to you, observe. Spend time listening to the chat or reading the archives. "Netiquette varies from domain to domain." (Shea, 1994) What you text to a friend may not be appropriate in an email to a classmate or colleague. In our online classrooms, students have varied personal and professional backgrounds, and it is that very diversity which encourages students to learn from one another.

Rule 4: Respect other’s time and bandwidth

Electronic communication takes time to read and time in which to respond. People lead busy lives, just like you do. It is your responsibility to make sure that the time others spend reading your words isn't wasted. Make your written communication meaningful and to the point.

Much of your classroom interaction will take place in discussion boards. Remember, once you submit your comment, there is no way to take it back. Think about your message and read all of your peer’s comments carefully before replying to any questions. If you don’t, you may end up repeating what others have already said which will make it seem like you are ignoring the prior comments. Once you are certain that your comment will add a new element to the discussion, explain yourself clearly.

Rule 5: Make yourself look good online

Online discussions require professional writing. You will be judged by the quality of your writing, so keep the following tips in mind:

Use good grammar and proofread: Poor grammar and misspelled words are unprofessional and reflect poorly on you. Take time to ensure your audience does not have to read a poorly written message full of typos.

Tone is critical: Avoid writing messages that are confrontational, rude, contain profanity, or are written in all caps. Read your message aloud to ensure it is a polite. An email written with good tone in mind can accomplish much more than one that is overbearing.

Be respectful: Respond to other people's messages promptly, and if they ask for a return acknowledgement or receipt of an email, give it to them! Be polite, friendly, and professional. The Internet is a permanent repository of your messages, so think about your message and who will read it.

Be professional: Avoid getting into arguments in chat rooms, online classrooms, or through emails. Since the other person is not present, people often use the power of electronic writing to vent or lash out. If you become upset, don’t respond electronically until you have had time to put the issue into perspective. Avoid putting yourself in a position that you might later regret.

Recognize and respect diversity: If your virtual classroom is a typical one, it will be ethnically rich and multicultural. It is okay to disagree with a point of view, but it is definitely inappropriate to disrespect and be offensive towards others. Furthermore, paying attention to alternative viewpoints is one of the greatest ways to learn.

Rule 6: Contain the flames

"Flaming is what people do when they express a strongly held opinion without holding back any emotion." (Shea, 1994). As an example, think of the kinds of passionate comments you might read on a sports blog. In our online discussions, we need to contain "flame wars," when two or three people exchange angry posts between one another. Don't feed the flames; extinguish them by guiding the discussion back to a more productive direction.

Rule 7: Respect others’ privacy

Depending on what you are reading, be it an online class discussion forum, Facebook page, or an email, you may be exposed to some private or personal information. Perhaps someone is sharing some medical news about a loved one or discussing a situation at work. What do you think would happen if this information "got into the wrong hands?" Embarrassment? Hurt feelings? Loss of a job? Just as you expect others to respect your privacy, so should you respect the privacy of others.

Rule 8: Don't abuse your power

Just like in face-to-face situations, there are people in cyberspace who have more "power" than others. They have more expertise in technology or they have years of experience in a particular skill or subject matter. Maybe it's you who possesses all this knowledge and power! Just remember: knowing more than others, or having more power, does not give you the right to take advantage of anyone. See Rule #1.

Rule 9: Be forgiving of other people's mistakes

Not everyone has the same amount of experience working in a virtual world, such as Canvas. And not everyone knows the rules of netiquette. At some point, you will see a stupid question, read an unnecessarily long response, or encounter misspelled words. When this happens, practice kindness and forgiveness as you would hope someone would do if you had committed the same offense.

Keep all of these netiquette tips in mind, and you’ll be able to expand your knowledge base and share insights and perspectives with your classmates while enhancing your eLearning experience. We want you to be successful in the online environment!

Adapted from The Core Rules of Netiquette Shea, V. (1994). Core rules of netiquette. Netiquette (Online ed., pp. 32-45). San Francisco: Albion Books.

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