What is Netiquette and why should I teach it?

We expect our students to use appropriate language when participating in an in-class discussion or talking to us during office hours, when answering written questions on an exam or writing up a term paper. We know that our students don’t talk to their professors the same way they talk to their close friends, and we acknowledge that one of the great challenges in higher education is bringing students up to speed with the discourse conventions for our particular disciplines: teaching students to speak and write as scientists or sociologists or literary critics.

But we have all experienced how the anonymity of cyberspace sometimes makes people forget expectations for communication. (The Internet is kind of a weird place.) And, despite many college students’ familiarity with social media, they need to be reminded of the differences between casual social interactions and academic communications, be these in the form of emails, blog posts, or discussion forum posts. In fact, the best way to instigate the kind of communication you want to see in your students is to offer clear expectations. Just like you might provide a style sheet when assigning a paper for a class, consider offering your students guidelines for online communication, and model your expectations with them in all your communications with your class.

Guidelines for online behavior vary quite a bit depending on the context, but all Netiquette recommendations have a few basics in common:

  • Typing in all caps is the equivalent of shouting, so don’t do it.
  • Proofread your writing before sending or posting.
  • Respect other peoples’ privacy, time, and bandwidth.
  • “Lurk before you leap”: if you’re new to a blog or a forum, don’t post right away; look around a bit to understand the protocol.

If you don’t want to compose your own guidelines, you could ask your students to visit The Core Rules of Netiquette and take a netiquette quiz. Here are some additional resources that address issues of Netiquette:

Netiquette and Online Behavior (Loyola University Chicago Online)
Behaveyourself.com: Online Manners Matter
Beyond Emily: Post-ing Etiquette
Netmanners.com
Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship