What does good online etiquette look like?


black smartphone near person

Tutors often employ group work and peer-to-peer interaction to facilitate an effective environment for learners to share knowledge, experiences, and views. With the world struggling with a pandemic and more students learning remotely, it is still important to facilitate these types of experience for learners online.

Learning online often throws up challenges for students and while there are some wonderful general tips for learning online they can often be focused on technical barriers to learning synchronously or asynchronously. Once learners have tackled any technical barriers, they face another less obvious challenge, and this often relates to appropriate behaviour when interacting with their peers online. When it comes to behaviour in an online space, learning some very basic techniques can lower the potential for any misunderstandings, heated exchanges or causing upset, whether accidental or otherwise.

The good news, however, is that the required set of behaviours mirrors that of a typical face-to-face setting and are underpinned by the same values: being respectful of others and their views. Etiquette in an online space is often called ‘netiquette’. Communicating online with fellow students and colleagues requires etiquette for polite and professional behaviour. This ensures successful, meaningful and respectful interactions among peers.

General good online behaviour tips

  • Be respectful of other opinions. You are encouraged to respond constructively to other contributions, therefore acknowledge other’s perspectives and move the conversation forward by being supportive.
  • Be clear with your point of view, both verbally and in written messages.
  • Disagree with the comment, not with the person. Disagreement to some extent is expected, but focus on the topic being discussed and avoid negative comments about other people.
  • Before challenging a counterargument, try to summarise the other person’s point of view in your words. Then they know you are trying to understand them and will be more likely to take your view seriously.
  • Be mindful when posting images (including animated GIFs), sometimes a posted image can be open to interpretation.

Guidance for live interactive sessions

(e.g., Live online lectures, seminars tutorials or meetings)

  • Be on time for online sessions or meetings.
  • Keep your mic on mute when you are not speaking so that background noise doesn’t impact other participants. Most platforms provide ways to indicate when you want to speak by virtually ‘raising your hand’.
  • Keeping your camera on is a good way to signal your engagement in a session and gives others some non-verbal cues. There are good reasons why you may choose to keep your camera off, but it can help to establish good rapport if you feel able to turn it on, at least some time.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Don’t eat during a live session.
  • Tutors may encourage interaction with their students in an online setting, which some may find unnerving, but try to participate where possible.
  • Use the chat function to let others know why you are quiet if you feel able, so that staff and students can respond appropriately.
  • The more you participate constructively (while still allowing others to speak and interact) the more feedback you will receive on your ideas.

Guidance for online written discussions

(e.g., E-mail, Moodle forums, Zoom chat or Microsoft Teams chat)

  • Keep messages clear and succinct to avoid rambling, this will lead to less lengthy and confused messages.
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS as it can appear as though you’re shouting!
  • Think about effect rather than intention. Even if you did not mean to be rude, dismissive, or confrontational, it may be perceived that way.
  • Remember that written messages can sometimes lose context or intention.
  • Clearly express your emotions. Emotions can be easily misunderstood when you cannot see faces or body language. Most platforms allow the use of emojis, which is one way to convey an emotion.
  • Be sure to post your replies in the correct areas within a forum or chat channel. Most technologies featuring chat are ‘threaded’ conversations and if your post goes in the wrong place, it is less likely to be read in the correct context or at all.
  • Don’t post inappropriate photos or images which could cause harm or distress to yourself or others.
  • Take your time before responding to messages if you feel offended or upset. It is very tempting to type a speedy reply without thinking — but don’t!
  • If you feel you’re responding abruptly and sense your emotions rising as you type, don’t hit ’Send’ straight away. Save your message and take a break before returning to it later.
  • Be mindful with your use of language which could be deemed obscene, profane, threatening or disrespectful.