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Two students having online class with a teacher

5 Tips for Improving Your Digital Etiquette

Posted on: October 19, 2020

With so many courses going online, it is important for students, new and existing, to be aware of basic digital etiquette or ‘netiquette’ in order to meet the expectations of a virtual classroom. This quick netiquette guide for online courses will help you make the most of your learning and improve your virtual interactions.

1. Introduce Yourself

During initial meetings at the start of a semester, introduce yourself briefly to the instructor before or after class. This is what you might say: “My name is Theresa Tang. I’m an international student from Beijing, China, starting my first year of university education. I arrived last week in your country and plan to complete a four-year degree in economics.” Get to know your professors, teaching assistants, lab instructors and anyone else who will be teaching you. In subsequent interactions throughout the semester make sure you sign off in communications with who you are. Not just your name, but your full name and what course you’re on e.g. Theresa Tang Economics 101. It seems simple but it will be even harder for faculty, and your peers, to remember names when there is less face to face interaction.

2. Understand the Technology

For many students, using a webcam and various new online platforms will be like second nature, but for some this might be confusing or overwhelming and could be the cause for some anxiety. So, to better understand virtual classroom expectations, try to familiarise yourself with the following:

  • Using a webcam, turning it off and on when it’s appropriate to do so which is usually indicated by your instructor and peers, as well as the intimacy of the call. For example, a small seminar group would benefit from being able to see those involved, while in a large lecture having your webcam on might not be necessary or expected.
  • Using the mute button, again turning it off and on when appropriate. On for when discussions are required, and off when your instructor is speaking, and you don’t need to be. And especially off if there is lots of noise where you are!
  • If you're expected to use a learning platform, take 15 minutes or so to explore the different areas and note down questions you may have to ask your lecturer e.g. where do I submit my assignments?

3. Get Involved

If you’re in a class where you need to use your webcam, think of this as an opportunity to get involved! Following basic netiquette guidance for online courses means contributing. Ask questions or answer them, take part in quizzes/polls or use the chat box. Another expectation of a virtual classroom is to use an emoji when messaging. Even if you don’t usually, in a chatroom or online forum setting this can really help convey feelings or emotions like confusion or humour, that might get lost otherwise.

4. Don’t Abuse 24/7 Availability

Book and laptop open late at night

Student Working Late - Unsplash

Digital etiquette for students also extends beyond the virtual classroom. Just because it is possible to contact your lecturer, teaching assistant or fellow students at 12AM on a Tuesday, doesn’t mean that you should. Be aware of teachers’ office hours, which will vary between faculty, and be sure to follow any other guidance they have given. If no guidance is given, stick to reasonable hours of contact from roughly 8AM – 7PM, but don’t expect an immediate response.

When it comes to contact with your fellow students, whom you may need to collaborate with, remember that everyone has their own studying style. Some may be up at 12AM on a Tuesday, whilst others might find messages at that time disruptive, so take some a moment to gauge that before messaging/emailing them and stick to more reasonable hours in the meantime.

Finally, before contacting anyone for an answer to a question, try to look for it yourself. In a traditional classroom setting it can be easy to just raise your hand or turn to the person next to you and ask a question, but at university and in an online format especially, it’s worthwhile to trying to answer your own questions. This can save everyone time and develops your independent thinking and learning.

5. Take Care.

Take care with what you write online, how this could be interpreted (sarcasm doesn’t always work in this setting!) and whether you would say this in person. Chat functions are commonplace on video platforms and can be useful. But be aware of who can see those messages and remember that those messages may be saved, so take care with what you say. Practicing virtual classroom etiquette means that although it may feel more informal, this is still a classroom so manage your grammar and tone. Whether through email, chat room messages or answering a question in a Zoom call, be respectful and professional especially with faculty. It sounds obvious but talking to your lecturer online is not the same as talking to your friends.


Best of luck with your studies and remember to check out our Student Survival Skills Hub for more advice and free resources, particularly our new Snapshot: Starting University During a Pandemic!



Thomas R. Klassen is a professor at York University in Canada. He has been Visiting Professor at Yonsei University in Korea, and Konstanz University in Germany. For several years he taught a course in which he took a group of Canadian students to Asia for a semester. He is the father of 14-year old twins, who don’t have the same last name! He also co-authored, The Essential Guide to Studying Abroad, with Christine Menges. More about Professor Klassen can be found at: https://www.thomasklassen.net/

Barbara Hoekje, Ph.D., is associate professor of communication at Drexel and teaches courses in sociolinguistics and intercultural communication. She directed the English Language Center at Drexel University from 2001-2015 and co-authored the book, Creating a Culturally Inclusive Campus: A Guide to Supporting International Students with Scott Stevens. 

Scott G. Stevens, Ed. D., is Director of the English Language Institute and Administrator of the MA TESL program at the University of Delaware.  He has devoted nearly four decades to teacher training and to advocating for international education and exchange, particularly in ESL.  In 2018, he co-authored Creating a Culturally Inclusive Campus: A Guide to Supporting International Students, with Barbara Hoekje.