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Netiquette - A Guide for Teaching Online

Introduction to online discussion

The University enables online discussion delivered through the University’s Learning Management System (LMS), iLearn. Tools such as Wikis, Blogs, Discussion Forums, and Chat Forums can be used for this purpose. These tools can be used for completing the following learning activities: case studies, project-based learning, interviews, group assignments, and discussion.

Managing online communication: setting the ground rules

How to manage student expectations online

Establish the rules of communication

It is important to make sure that your students understand the online discussion process. This includes ensuring they are aware of the following:

  • the mechanics of using the software,
  • the topics that you regard as suitable for discussion,
  • netiquette and rules for acceptable behaviour.
Your expectations

Having a virtual presence compared to a physical one means that you may not always be there when students have questions and needs. This means that you will need to clearly articulate expectations of students in terms of:

  • their behavior,
  • the standard and format of work they need to complete,
  • how you want them to use their ‘virtual space’.
Students’ expectations of you

Conversely, it is essential that students know what they can expect from you. This means being clear about: 

  • how and when you will participate in the website,
  • response times for feedback on their questions and assessment,
  • your preferred means of communication.

If you don’t convey these things up front then students will expect you to be available 24x7. Stating your conditions can avoid disappointment and discontentment.


As an online instructor, it is useful to be mindful of basic netiquette and ensure students are aware of the University policies. The Student Netiquette Guide is a source of general guidance for students participating in online discussion.

How to facilitate discussion online

  • Initiate a discussion with a warm welcome message. This may also be a good time to articulate the goals of the discussion and set out your expectations and any ground rules for participation.
  • If students have not met face to face it can be useful to do some kind of an online ice-breaker.
  • Make sure students are aware of your participation level in the discussion.
  • Let them know how frequently you will (realistically) check the discussion and try to stick to this. If you are going to be away for any period of time be sure to convey this to students in terms of your participation level.
  • Engage the students in the discussion by using strategies such as presenting conflicting opinions, basing the discussion on controversial papers or opinions, using authentic learning contexts, using questioning and counterfactuals.
  • Refocus the discussion if it gets off topic.
  • Don’t lecture online. Try to create postings that entice students to participate.
  • When explanations are required, use examples, direct them to other resources and ask other students to help.
  • Don’t become the gatekeeper – aim for productive discussions that will require less input from you over time and more interaction amongst students.
  • Don’t over contribute – let the students answer questions from others.
  • Be prepared to sit back a little and let others respond.
  • Accept lurkers unless participation is a requirement, but try to gently entice them into the discussion.
  • Do not tolerate bad behaviour or language such as inappropriate postings of a sexual, cultural or gender nature.

Assessing online discussion

  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver (e.g. to check and respond to online discussion postings daily, when actually you can only do this twice a week on work days only).
  • If students are displaying inappropriate behaviour (e.g. flaming) act immediately, but do it privately, not in front of the group unless it persistently occurs.
  • Students will only use and interact with resources and each other on the site if they see it is of relevance to them – make explicit linkages as to why they are relevant.
  • Discussion forums often work well where they are structured around a particular task that is relevant to assessment. Give them timeframes also – say 2-3 weeks so the discussion doesn’t labour on.

Additional resources

More information on the different types of online discussion tools available through iLearn can be found on the iLearn Quick Guides page.

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