Online student participation and conduct guidelines

Online courses are based on the premise that students learn best in a community. The instructor plays an important role, but this is a different role than most instructors play in the traditional, face-to-face classroom. While you may see a shift in the way classes work, you’ll also notice that some things don’t change: the practices of courtesy and respect that apply in the ordinary classroom also apply online, and may actually require more attention in this venue. Here are some guidelines: 1

  1. Get involved. In the online environment, it’s not enough to show up! Your voice must be heard in order to show your presence. Your comments are needed to add to the information, the shared learning, and the sense of community in each class.

  2. Be persistent. Remember that for many this is a fairly new environment. Each instructor still sets the rules and you need to abide by them; however, if you run into any difficulties, don’t wait! Send your instructor an email immediately or post in the Discussion Area. Most problems are easily solved, but your instructor and your fellow students need to hear from you before they can help.

  3. Share tips, helps, and questions. For many, taking online courses is a new experience. There are no dumb questions, and even if you think your solution is obvious, please share it by posting it in the Discussion Area. For every student who asks a question, there are 10 others wanting to know the same thing.

  4. Think before you push the Send button. Did you say just what you meant? How will the person on the other end read the words? While you can’t anticipate all reactions, do read over what you’ve written before you send it.

  5. Consider the context. Remember that we can’t see the grin on your face when you make a sarcastic comment, we can’t see the concern on your face if you only say a couple of words, and we can’t read your mind and fill in the gaps if you abbreviate your comments. So: help us “see” you by explaining your ideas fully.

  6. Ask for feedback. Not sure how your ideas and comments will be taken? Remember there’s a person on the other side. If you disagree with what someone has said, practice all your communication skills as you express that disagreement. “Flaming,” or flying off the handle and ranting at someone is unacceptable; it is the equivalent of having a tantrum, something most of us wouldn’t do in an onsite, face to face classroom.

  7. Act with respect. Any discriminatory, derogatory or inappropriate comments are unacceptable and subject to the same disciplinary action that they would receive if they occurred in the face to face classroom. If you have concerns about something that has been said, please contact your instructor.

  8. Exercise integrity. Plagiarism, cheating, and other violations of ethical student behavior are serious actions in a learning community. Consequences of online student behavior that contradicts the Penn State Academic Integrity policy will be addressed on an individual basis and in accordance with Penn State Academic Integrity policy. Click here for more information.


  1. Adapted from a syllabus available here.