State Expectations for Course Communication and Interaction

Quality Review Showcase

The Quality and High Quality online course reviews explore components proven to be best practices in online course design. This post showcases Quality item, “Expectations for course communication and interactions are clearly stated (e.g. tone, civility, spelling/grammar).”

It can be easy to assume that most students are already familiar with how to communicate online, but in reality, they may not be prepared to communicate within a formal academic environment. In a fully online course, the communication between students and with you may not occur at the same time, and often multiple tools can be used (e.g., email, discussion board, feedback on an assignment).

With the lack of body language and other visual cues to rely on, it is recommended that a more conscious effort be made to explicitly guide students on how to communicate online. This is very important to establish at the beginning of a course, as incivility (or perceived incivility) can disrupt learning and performance as well as cost the instructor extra time to address (Campbell, Jones, & Lambie, 2020).

What Are Some Ways Your Online Course Can Be Designed to Meet This Standard?

  • First, think through these questions to help establish your “code of conduct”.
    • How can students communicate to show respect for the instructor and others?
    • How can students communicate to express difference of opinions or be critical?
    • What is not acceptable to you? What does a threat look like? What topics are offensive? What is inappropriate language?
  • Keep it simple. Dr. Karen Mottarella shares in her online course, “Do not post or Coursemail anything to me (your instructor), Teaching Assistants, or other students that you would NOT say face-to-face in front of your instructor.”
  • Next, develop a plan for what to do if someone does something or says something that goes against the principles you have established.The first step may be privately reaching out to the student and identifying the principle in question, with a suggestion of how to amend it. For instance, if you’ve clearly stated that you want to be addressed as Dr. in emails to you, and a student does not, is this a warning?
  • Use the Webcourses@UCF Templater tool to import the Course Expectations template page that can be modified. Include your standards and communication plan there. Include this in your course orientation module.
  • In the Course Expectations template page, there is a sentence on when they can expect to hear from you if they contact you. In that area, you can establish how you’d like them to address you (“Please address me as Dr. ….”).
  • Ask students to propose their own expectations and incorporate them into your list. They will be more likely to follow the standards if they have input. This could be done in a live online session, an anonymous ungraded survey, or discussion board.
  • If you are teaching a live online session, remind them of the standards at the beginning of the session. Cameras on? Text chat? If they’d like to speak, should they use the ‘raise hand’ feature?
  • Model the behavior you wish to see. Address students by name, be responsive, and use respectful language.

What Does This Look Like in a Real Online Course?

Example 1: Amanda Groff, ANT4153 (North American Archeology).

Dr. Groff has taught many online courses that often have hundreds of students in each section. Over time, she has crafted her netiquette statements about discussion boards, non-solicitation, and email appropriateness.

Discussion Board Appropriateness

The discussion board is to be used by students to discuss topics concerning our class. Feel free to discuss topics covered in the class, articles you may have found online. As stated in the golden rule, please do not share or discuss specific quiz/exam answers or answers to assignments. Additionally, please do not use the discussion board to launch personal attacks against myself or fellow students. If there is an issue, please do not hesitate to contact me privately. I am happy to help in any way I can.

Student Non-Solicitation

Students have the right to privacy and non-solicitation in an online environment. Thus, students are NOT permitted to send out mass emails to the entire class via inbox or without explicit permission from the professor. If a student wants to bring up a subject to the class, the student must use the Discussions and select the appropriate discussion thread for conversing. I have provided an area under Discussions for students to message and contact each other. I will not tolerate students harassing, spamming, or inciting each other when discussions can be handled and monitored in one location via the Discussions tab. If you are being spammed or bullied by a fellow student, please report to me and I will handle the issue. The Office of Student Conduct may be used if a solution cannot be found.

***This applies to mass emails, you are obviously more than welcome to email individual friends in the class.

Email Appropriateness

Please address emails in a formal manner. Emails are the only correspondence I have with you, therefore, they are the only impression I get of your character. Sometimes emails that are blunt can come off as rude. Also, please don’t send text message-like emails!

Example 2: David Morton, AMH3425 (Sunbelt Florida).

Dr. Morton creates a discussion board and asks students to submit a post which reviews a particular visual or audio media source. Often the topics delve into challenging and sometimes controversial narratives surrounding American history. He includes a disclaimer as students prepare these submissions:

Disclaimer: Each of the documentaries selected will examine how these competing groups interact with and against one another and the factors that went into the creation of the first truly global melting pot.

You are expected to choose any one of the following resources listed below and then submit a 300-500 word review of your selected documentary in the class discussion board. After submitting your review, you will then be expected to respond (100 word minimum) to at least two of your classmate’s posts. This is an opportunity for you to reflect critically on both our class discussions and the film you had just watched.

Keep in mind that this is a graded writing assignment, so all expectations involving grammar, spelling, and structure will apply. Additionally it should be already apparent that these class discussions are an opportunity for respectful discussion and debate between you and your classmates. Throughout this course we will be dealing with a number of controversial topics where students are encouraged to express a multitude of perspectives and ideas which should be allowed to be openly discussed. That being said, any open demonstration of aggression or intolerance toward another classmates’ opinion, specific individuals or groups of people, will not be tolerated.

Has he ever had to address aggression or intolerance within the discussions? He says, “Thankfully nothing overly heated between students – at least from a political standpoint. There was one time a student was overly harsh with their critique of a fellow student’s writing style and did not provide any real constructive criticism. I withheld a grade for the assignment until I could meet with the student and discuss why their response was inappropriate. After a short conversation and a revised comment, the student did show marked improvement in their ability of critically engaging with their classmates.”

Example 3: Glenda Gunter, College of Community Innovation and Education.

In a live online class, Dr. Gunter introduces the subject of online civility through a poem that she adapted to fit the audience and context, which she feels sets the tone for the semester:

Everyone has a voice, behind the screen

Everyone has a choice, behind the screen

Words can be rough, behind the screen

Easier to cause hurt, behind the screen

Opinions can be heard, behind the screen

One piece of advice – everybody should be kind behind the screen.

Campbell, L., Jones, J., & Lambie, G. (2020). Online academic incivility among adult learners. Adult Learning, 31(3), 109-119.

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