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’ online or on-ground class 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.

In on-ground classes, set some ground rules up front for students to agree to adhere to in order to create a mutually respectful environment free of some common distractions.

  • Agree that students will let you know in advance if they will need to be late to a class period or leave early. Be sure they understand that means quietly entering or exiting the room to minimize disturbance for their classmates. If you won’t tolerate late walk-ins or students leaving early, set that expectation clearly in advance so they can make their own arrangements if they miss a class.
  • Set the expectation of a participatory environment. Let them know that like in a work environment, you’ll notice their distracted and distracting behavior and take it into account as signs of disinterest.
  • Allow — even encourage — students to speak up and disagree with one another or with you, but in a respectful manner. As they answer, help them build valuable soft skills by keeping them from monopolizing discussions or voicing disagreements in a disrespectful manner. (Adapted from Ellis, p. 30)

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 Learning.

What are some ground rules you set forth in your online or on-ground classes to ensure civility when students interact with fellow students or with you? Share in the comments section below.