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Netiquette: good online behaviour at UCL

Guidance for staff and students on how to practice good online behaviour to maintain a welcoming and respectful community at UCL.

With all core teaching taking place online, it’s important that you are contributing to, and feel part of a safe, respectful and connected UCL community when interacting online.

‘Netiquette’ (short for ‘net etiquette’) refers to rules of good online behaviour.

We outline below how you can maintain a positive, constructive remote learning environment, and the mutual expectations staff and students can expect of each other when interacting online. 

Staff guidance

With the shift to Connected Learning and greater online interaction at UCL this year, it is important that we prepare students for systems, platforms and approaches they can expect in their studies. 

Ensure that everyone can participate

Everyone you teach should feel able to contribute, regardless of the teaching method being used.

Clarity of resources

  • Clearly inform students on what online resources you will be using.
  • Explain what the resources will be used for.
  • Explain to students how you want them to work with, and/or access these resources.
  • Ensure documents are accessible for all participants.

Teaching live classes

  • Set ground rules at the start of a class and stick to them! Ask participants to raise their hand or use the chat function rather than going straight to a microphone if they wish to speak.
  • Monitor the chat periodically and give people time to use it.
  • Make it clear when you are giving time for everyone to speak by calling on them. Use people’s names so everyone knows whose turn it is.
  • Consider there might be some time lag when presenting live. Check regularly with students if they are able to follow along, and provide enough time to comment/ask questions when prompted.

  • If you are using Collaborate or Zoom you can turn off participant microphones or remove them from sessions if they are being disruptive.
  • Clarify when the live session has ended, and wait for all students to log off/leave the session.

Joining in

  • Watch out for students who aren’t ‘joining in’. It might be worth dropping them a note outside the session to see if they are happy sitting back and listening or whether they are finding it hard to break into the session.
  • Be aware that students from some countries and cultural backgrounds may be concerned about joining in an online, and notably recorded, session in case authorities have access to what has been said. If a student expresses a wish to remain quiet, they may have a good reason that is not immediately obvious to you. Don’t push them, and try not to view participation in a discussion as evidence of engagement.

Equity of attention

It is easy to give attention to those students and colleagues that we are most familiar with and identify with, or those who are most vocal. This can lead to real and perceived unfairness within a group.

  • Encourage communication and queries through general forums or Teams groupings for classes to ensure everyone is informed.
  • Remote working and study can raise feelings of isolation or side-lining in individuals. Try to ensure that praise is not reserved for a small number of constant individuals in a class so that everyone feels valued.

Setting boundaries

Teaching from home, and around your home life, can mean that the boundaries between home and work are blurred. The same is true for your students, and you'll need to set boundaries to make your work/life balance.

  • Do not give out personal phone numbers or email addresses to students. Similarly, you should not expect others to give non-UCL contact details to you. Teams is available for non-email communications should you need it.
  • Let others know that you don't expect replies outside of someone’s usual study or working hours. You add a message about this to your email signature. Try to model this practice or use something like a delay send function within your email client.
  • Always let your students know when something is being recorded.

Consider personal and family safeguarding when using video. Check what you have around you that may be in shot.

  • Are you happy with family photographs, or indeed family, being in shot?
  • Perhaps blur your background, or use a pre-prepared background.
  • Your students may not want to show images of their workspace. Give them the opportunity to work with their video off to maintain privacy.

Dignity as part of learning

Everyone is entitled to feel comfortable and included during their study and work at UCL. There will be many informal interactions taking place in the working day and beyond, often through social media.

  • Although it is acknowledged that a home working setting is not an office setting, you should not display offensive material, and should dress appropriately for your class, study and work when you will be visible on video.
  • UCL does not tolerate any derogatory or stereotypical remarks, or mocking, mimicking or belittling a persons’ protected characteristic.
  • You should not speculate or gossip about someone’s perceived sexuality or gender identity, nor refuse to use someone’s preferred gendered pronoun or continue to use their former name.
  • Nuances of language can be quickly lost in written text. Be mindful of your written informal interactions.
  • Ask for clarification of the pronunciation of peoples’ names.
  • Show an awareness of others’ situations, especially if you are in a more senior position. Be mindful that students and colleagues may have disabilities and hardships that you are not aware of.

Sharing student guidance

Good practice includes introducing new students to, and reminding returning cohorts of, our expectations for how they interact online – the ‘netiquette’ they should uphold as representatives of the university and as a community of supportive peers.

We have created the general guidance below which you may wish to share with your students, or adapt to suit the connected learning and social activities in your department. We recommend that you involve the students directly in agreeing local agreements. 

Staff might also want to include this statement on Moodle module pages:  

You are reminded that UCL has a Code of Conduct for students that covers all areas of student life and some specific guidance about Netiquette or good online behaviour.  
Please read through this guidance and engage in respectful and supportive discussion with tutors and fellow students on this module. 

The principles underpinning the guidance are not new. UCL is a community and as members of this community, students are expected to adhere to UCL’s rules and regulations, to show respect for persons and property, and to behave in a way that does not interfere with the normal operations of UCL – whether online or in person.

As is usual, where there is reason to believe that rules and regulations have been broken, and/or when the behaviour of a student falls below the expected standards, the Academic Manual sets out the relevant disciplinary procedure.

Student guidance

We want to prepare you to make the most of your digital interactions with staff and students. Whether posting in online forums, taking part in a virtual teaching session, or messaging a private or public chat group, we must work together to uphold UCL’s Code of Conductand treat each other with the same respect and politeness as we would in a face-to-face classroom.

‘Netiquette’ (short for ‘net etiquette’) refers to rules of good online behaviour.

The principles of online communication are similar to those for face-to-face conversation, but there are important differences too. Many of us are used to communicating online using e-mail and private and informal platforms. Whilst it is extremely rare for anybody to deliberately behave inappropriately online, actions can cause unintentional harm so it is worth reflecting on expectations and norms for communicating responsibly online.

The general guidance below is a starting point for you to think about how you are expected to behave online as a UCL student; your programme or department may give you more guidance specific to your discipline.

The opportunity to present your ideas and debate with peers is an important part of your UCL education. Good netiquette means that in these debates or discussions, your comments remain respectful and constructive – they are offered in the spirit of helping to improve or build on someone’s work, not in order to target an individual or group with personal criticism.

If you post something inappropriate, a tutor or module leader might delete the post and contact you privately to explain why.  If this should happen repeatedly, you could be subject to sanctions.

General good online behaviour

Generally, good online behaviour involves: 

  • Thanking, acknowledging, and supporting people - remember people cannot see you nod, smile or frown as you read their messages. So, if they get no acknowledgement, they may feel ignored and be discouraged from contributing further. It is a good habit to respond constructively to posts, acknowledging the other person’s perspective and moving the conversation forward.
  • Acknowledging before differing - before you disagree with someone, try to summarise the other person’s point in your own words. Then they know you are trying to understand them and will be more likely to take your view seriously.
  • Making your perspective clear - try to avoid speaking in a dogmatic and an impersonal way, so avoid phrases like ‘It is a fact that …’ as they leave no room for anyone else’s viewpoint. So, why not start with ‘I think …’? You may want to present someone else’s views; if so, say whose they are, perhaps by a quote and acknowledgement.
  • Clearly showing your emotions - smileys or emojis can be used to express your feelings. Most online platforms allow you to use emojis to express a variety of emotions.
    Emotions can be easily misunderstood when you cannot see faces or body language. Be mindful that people may not realise when you are joking, and one person’s joke may not seem amusing to someone else. You should always be aware of the receiver(s) of your message, particularly as people from widely differing cultures and backgrounds may read what you write online. What you find funny may be offensive to them.
  • Avoiding ‘flaming’ - if you read something that offends or upsets you, it is very tempting to type a speedy reply and hit ‘Send’ without thinking – but don’t! It can quickly escalate into a flaming spiral of angry messages and online discussions seem to be particularly prone to such ‘flames’. So, if you feel your temperature rising as you write, save your message, take a break or sleep on it – don’t hit ‘Send’.
  • Disagreeing with the comment, not with the persondisagreement is expected but remember to focus on the matter under discussion and avoid negative comments about other people.
  • Respecting difference – respect others’ cultural, religious, professional, academic and economic backgrounds, skills, abilities and contributions.
  • Asking permission - Do not use or reproduce others’ comments or personal information without their express permission.
  • Remembering academic/student reps are students too. They are doing two jobs, and one is entirely voluntary to support you. They may not always be in a position to do exactly what you want or take the action you would have taken if you were the rep.  They are happy hear and respond to your issues and feedback, but this should be done respectfully. Approach them personally with your concern rather than criticising them in a public forum.

Good online behaviour in online written discussions

(e.g. on Moodle forums, Virtual Common Rooms or MS Teams chats):

  • Pause before posting - before you write a message, take time to see what is being discussed and how. It is quite acceptable to read messages without posting any yourself (known as ‘lurking’) – people often do this while they build up the courage to take part.
  • Keep your messages short, and keep to one topic per message.
  • Don’t give out any personal information that you would not usually share with people you do not know.
  • Think about effect rather than intention: even if you did not mean to be rude, dismissive, confrontational, hectoring etc. it may be perceived that way. Remember that the written word can lose context and intention and is a permanent reminder to the receiver of what may have been a fleeting exchange.
  • Check you’re in the right place - ensure that you post in the correct area of the forum or discussion board. Most forums or discussion boards include mechanism for ‘threading’ conversations, or channels for discussing different topics and if your post goes to the wrong place, it is less likely to be read or responded to.
  • Avoid all caps! Avoid writing in capital letters – it looks like you’re SHOUTING!

Good online behaviour in live interactive sessions

(e.g. live online lectures or seminars)

Tutors love interaction with their students. In a classroom environment, you pick up non-verbal cues from the teaching staff and fellow learners if you are contributing too much or too little. Online, you will need to develop self-monitoring techniques.

There may be many reasons why you are not actively contributing in a live discussion, including your personal preferences or your mental wellbeing or simply not understanding what is being discussed, but staying silent the whole time – especially where the group size is small – can feel quite uncomfortable for some people in the online environment. Here are some things you can do for a more positive experience:

  • Use the chat function to let people know why you are quiet if you feel able, so that others can respond appropriately.
  • Keeping your camera on can be a good way to signal your engagement in a session and gives others some non-verbal cues. There are good reasons why you, or others, may choose to keep your camera off, but it can help to establish good rapport if you feel able to turn it on, at least some of the time.
  • On the other hand, it’s a good idea to keep your mic on mute when you are not speaking so that background noise doesn’t impact other students. There are ways to indicate when you want to speak – for example in MS Teams you can put your hand up (but remember to put it down again!).

The more you participate constructively (while still allowing others to speak and interact) the more feedback you will receive on your ideas. The more feedback you receive, the better you should be prepared for your assessment.

Other sources of information and guidance

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