Promoting Student Civility: Online and Offline

A computer keyboard with keys labeled Rude and Polite
Online Learning
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Student civility may seem like a common-sense issue for students to work out on their own, but encouraging professionalism with simple rules for respect and consideration for student interactions online and offline can go a long way toward fostering an environment conducive to learner engagement. Here, we offer tips to keeping your students’ interactions respectful and professional from Dave Ellis’ , and from Ryan Watkins and Michael Corry’s E-Learning Companion: A Guide to Online Success, Fourth Edition.

The Effect of Anonymity

Online interaction can pose unique challenges to maintaining student civility as there is a certain amount of anonymity that comes with interacting without seeing one another face-to-face. Just as you’d set expectations for respectful behavior for on-ground courses, set forth the rules of engagement for students to agree to in online discussions to keep them lively and engaging, while remaining professional.

  • If interaction via discussion boards or chat is a part of your online class, include guidelines for participation, rules, and etiquette for these specific settings in your syllabus.
  • Be clear that this is coursework with expectations about posting quality, length, and formality.
  • Ensure students stick to the topic at-hand when posting to a discussion board. You can moderate for relevance as you check for participation.
  • Consider providing a “model posting” that students can use as a template for good participation. (Adapted from Watkins & Corry, pp. 170-172)



  • Content adapted from Ellis, Dave. 2013. Becoming a Master Student. 14th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
  • Content adapted from Watkins, Ryan and Corry, Michael. 2014. E-Learning Companion: A Student’s Guide to Online Success. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage.