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Enrolling in an online course allows a student to slip into the driver’s seat and have control over their academic environment. But the adjustment from attending in-person classes to online learning can be difficult for a first-timer to navigate. To help you through the process, we spoke with Colorado State University Instructor Michelle Ancell to break down the Do’s and Don’ts of online course etiquette.

DO login to the online system before the start of class.

“Familiarize yourself with the online platform your instructor is using to teach the class, and explore everything that is available on that website,” says Ancell.

If find you’re having trouble with your computer or navigating through the online learning system, ask for help prior to the start of the course. 

DO read the course expectations

“Read the syllabus. Make sure you understand how the class is going to be structured. Will they use modules?  Do they deliver assignments via the ‘announcements’ section? Get a sense of what you need to be checking on every week”.

The course syllabus will likely contain the due dates and point values for each assignment. Your instructor will also use the syllabus to outline the class policies, including accommodations for disabilities and expectations of academic integrity.

DO introduce yourself

“Introduce yourself to your instructor. It makes a huge difference. Send an email saying ‘This is who I am, here’s what I’m studying, and this is why I’m in your class’. It makes you stand out, and your professor will receive a positive impression of you.”

Remember, a little effort goes a long way!

DON’T be a wallflower

“Just because your course is online doesn’t mean you can’t develop some sort of relationship with your instructor.” Ancell notes that connecting with your instructor online will be a bit different than taking a live class, but that shouldn’t deter a student from using them as a resource.

“Find the way your professor prefers to communicate, whether through emails, FaceTime, or texting. In my online courses, students typically talk to me through email, but I always give out my cell phone number. They’re always welcome to text me or call me. I think sometimes people feel like humanity is taken away when they take an online course, and that doesn’t have to be the case”.

It’s easy to feel as though you are working through a course alone due to the solitary nature of online classes. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your instructor and ask for guidance or clarification.

“Remember, there is a human behind the course, and it’s okay to interact with that human. That’s what they’re there for.”

DO respect your classmates

“Students tend to understand they are in a class and they are usually respectful of other people’s comments even if they don’t agree on a topic.” 

The golden rule applies to online discussions: treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

DON’T blame a late assignment on technical problems

“If you’re having trouble uploading an assignment, email it to your instructor as a backup. That will erase any concerns that it wasn’t done on time.”

After all, you did decide to sign up for an online class. It’s your responsibility to make sure your technology is working properly. 

DON’T ignore the additional online resources

“I think that’s one of the fun elements of an online class. Because there are so many resources available in the digital world, I’ll provide students with links to background reading or a video clip that relates to the topic.”

Ancell noted that students who take an extra five minutes to read an article or watch an accompanying YouTube video often receive a deeper understanding of the course material for little extra effort. 

DON’T think you need to go it alone

Connecting with other students can be challenging in an online course, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

“Ask your professor if there are students who are located geographically near you. You could meet for coffee or set up a time to study together.”

If meeting other students in-person isn’t an option, don’t fret! 

“A lot of times instructors will intentionally require students to participate in discussions. I would recommend submitting your discussion piece early (before the deadline), so you can go back and read the comments that are in response to your answer, and get to know people that way.”

DO embrace the flexibility of your online classroom

“The beauty of an online course is your study space can be anywhere you want it to be.” 

DON’T be afraid to speak up

“Too often students are scared of their professors. Although the instructor is in charge, students need to remember they are paying for the course. They should expect to get a response from their instructors in a reasonable amount of time. If your instructor isn’t answering you, question that.”

Need help finding an online college or graduate school? Check out Peterson’s College Search tool.