Etiquette for Digital Classroom

Last week, I gave a workshop to teaching assistants and instructors of record through the Virginia Tech Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence (VTGrATE) of which I am a fellow. The topic was on etiquette for the digital classroom for the educators to consider and norms to develop for their students. I used my own experiences teaching/presenting and being an attendee to develop the content for the workshop. I also referenced discussions on social media and articles I read. Below is a summary of some of the points discussed in the workshop.

Before class:

  • Dress as you would for in-person class. This includes from waist down as well. Think, what if you have to get up unexpectedly, and you are in your pajama bottoms? Moreover, dressing like you would for class gets you in the mind set appropriate for the task at hand. I cannot recall the name, but I read about a famous writer, who would wear his business attire when writing from home.
  • Log in 10 – 15 minutes earlier than the beginning of the class.
  • Come with a mindset to troubleshoot when technology hiccups occur. ( Have contact info for your university IT help for problems you cannot solve.)
  • Consider setting a password/setup waiting room if possible to avoid Zoombombers. Waiting room might be a challenge a) if your class size is large b) if students log in after the class begins and you don’t see them. In situations like these, you may assign a student to co-host the meeting so they can assist with letting late comers in.
  • Prepare and list student etiquette on the first slide and display at the beginning of each class. This allows students to review them as they log in and settle for class. In the list, include how you want your students to interact with you and fellow classmates. For instance, do you want them to use the “raise hand” feature when they have questions or want to comment? Would you prefer that they type in their questions into the chat box?
  • If using virtual background, select one that will not distract your students. I started using a solid black background that I created. My advisor came up with a creative idea: he took a picture of his office on campus and made it his background. The first time saw it, I thought he was in his office! Whatever you do, make sure to avoid background with moving objects. Use the “preview dialogue” before logging in to ensure there is adequate lighting and that your background as you would like it to be.

During class:

  • Let these two questions guide your classroom etiquette to create the environment that supports your teaching. 1. Would I conduct myself in this manner in an in-person classroom? 2. Is this reasonable to require of my students?
  • Encourage video to be turned on, but recognize that it may not be possible for some students. Some have concerns about safety. Have you come across pictures of Zoom classes on social media? I have, more than ones. This may be a concern for some students. Others may have privacy concerns or preferences about virtually inviting the class into their homes. Others may not have stable Internet to use video or devices that have video capabilities.
  • When video is turned off, it may take away the sense of student engagement and the instant feedback your receive by looking at their facial expression. Use online tools to engage and check-in with your students. For instance, Mentimeter is a popular app that is used for interactive presentations/lectures. Have them interact with you via chat or audio to make up for what is lost.
  • Encourage the use of “gallery view”. If you have large classes, you can enable the viewing of those with video on only to bring as many video attends to the screen.
  • People’s approach to the chat function is different. I personally prefer to enable chat function to everyone publicly or to me (host) only. I prefer not to have students sending chat messages among each other. In my opinion, that would be similar to allowing them to have a side chat while I am lecturing in an in-person class.
  • The raise-hand function is one of my favorite features. It helps the instructor monitor that class discussion is not dominated by a few people. (In some classes, I was one of those students!). It also avoids people speaking over each other in a heated discussion.
  • If using the chat function for class engagement, make sure to monitor it periodically to avoid missing questions. You can also assign a student to assist you with that.
  • Be understanding! This applies to you and your students. Unexpected things may happen as all of us adapt to this technology.
  • Please do not take a picture of your Zoom classroom and share it on social media. It violates the FERPA Code!

Guidance for students:

When creating etiquette guidance for students, think about how you want your digital classroom to function. For me important considerations include creating an inclusive and respectful environment, minimizing distractions to myself and my students, and keeping away disruptions. To encourage greater accountability from your students, I suggest developing the student-etiquette guidance with them. It also helps you understand what is important for them as learners in your class.

Here are somethings to consider for the guidance:

  • Communicate with instructor if you have issues with accessing Zoom class.
  • Do not take pictures of Zoom classroom without permission.
  • Do not share on social media without permission.
  • Don’t behave in a manner you wouldn’t in an-person class.
  • When leaving your station for a break, turn off video and mute yourself.
  • Don’t move with your device to places you wouldn’t want your classmates to accompany you.
  • Before sharing screen, check your open windows. Close the ones that are of personal nature.
  • Make sure to sign out or “leave meeting” when leaving early.

This is of course not exhaustive list. I used my own experience, my preference based on my teaching philosophy, and various resources that I listed below. There is much more to explore. Enjoy your learning. Remember, be understanding towards yourself and your students.


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