‘Netiquette’ is about more than just being mindful of the content you share, remembering not to use the dreaded all caps or keeping your microphone on mute. Good netiquette also means setting the tone for more inviting, more inclusive and more productive class time. Here are a few things to consider when designing your online learning environment.

How will you welcome students to each class?

Creating the right atmosphere starts the moment students log into your class. A favorite for many instructors is playing music as students arrive. This can add a little levity, especially in the early days, while giving students a peek at your passions outside of academic life. Want to get students more engaged? Take it a step further by asking for song suggestions for the next class.

Another great icebreaker is to have a slide with a personal question: “What is your favorite class you’ve taken so far?” or “What’s one question you have for the professor today?” This is a great way to get students to begin engaging and sharing with each other while waiting for others to join. Michelle Miller, Professor of Psychological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, allows students to doodle on their virtual whiteboard, sending a subtle message that this class is about engaging and participating.

The ground rules conversation

There’s plenty out there when it comes to online netiquette. While it’s often important to remind students not to abuse the chatbox or to think before they type, it’s not always the most engaging conversation. James Lang, author of Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About it, offers a different approach. To set the right tone, he makes community and attention values in the classroom. Taking time to discuss the values that will ensure a great learning experience and how every member can help sustain them can get students invested in doing their part.

Consider reminding students not to sweat the small stuff

In a virtual classroom, it’s important to remind people that the pivot to online learning is an adjustment for everyone. Technical glitches, family members and pets in the background and eating during class are all a part of life when teaching and learning remotely. Recognizing that things won’t always go according to plans is okay. Acknowledging this helps communicate the sense that ‘we’re all in this together.’

Video camera—on or off?

There is a lot of debate over whether instructors should mandate that all students keep their video cameras turned on. While this is a personal decision that every educator has to make, too many hard and fast rules aren’t always great at a time when flexibility and empathy are so important. Instructors should determine if video cameras are really vital. Does it affect participation, or does it make some students feel forced to do something they would rather not (and often for good reasons)? If it’s something you feel your class could really benefit from, you might say that it is appreciated but not expected. Many students will like having the option.

Think about what it means to be present in the learning environment

As instructors, the hope is that students will be present and focused in their online classroom environments. However, it’s important not to get too consumed with students being actively engaged at all times, especially when learning remotely. Instructors should share that they will do their best to make the class experience an engaging one. But offering different ways to engage is important as well. Some may be comfortable speaking up in front of a large class, others may be more willing in a breakout group or in a discussion thread. So while the expectation setting is necessary, offering avenues for different students to contribute is also important if your end goal is student participation.

The reality is we live in a world of distraction. Family members, pets, deliveries and social media are all part of the mix when teaching and learning online. Learning communities can make agreements to do their best to stay engaged and focused, but accept the fact that not every student will be engaged 100 percent of the time.

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