Purpose : To set a basic standard for class discourse for the
semester; to have students become aware of some of the conventions of various
discourse communities; to enable the students collectively to have a voice
in their own class.
||Open the discussion by running through the various types of electronic
communication the students will be using, not only in your class, but in
the larger university setting, and also outside of academic life altogether.
Ask students to name some of the coventions each form has. (In
my class, this discussion usually comes a few days to a week after we have
discussed and briefly compared conventions of letters, diary entries, magazine
articles, and other non-electronic formats.) Write the responses on
the board. (Some samples might include more informal spelling in email,
lack of capitalization in chat forums, no formal salutations in email as
opposed to handwritten letters, and so forth.)
||After some responses are up on the board, ask students to speculate why
conventions differ across forms. You might ask, for example, why web
pages are expected to have graphics, but email is not.
||Discuss how audience affects electronic writing. Does it affect
electronic writing exactly parallel to the way audience affects offline writing?
Would a handwritten letter to a professor look much the same as an
email to a professor?
||Use all of the above to slowly move into a discussion of what is appropriate
/ inappropriate (or effective / ineffective, or whatever language you care
to use) in various situations. Again, encourage students to reason
out the why behind their answers.
||Move to a discussion of what the students feel are appropriate and
inappropriate conventions for class electronic discourse. (If you hold
this discussion following the email round-robin story exercise, you may have
plenty of examples to use here... I almost always toss into the pot
the story of a former student who, in his first five minutes on LinguaMOO,
the academic discussion forum, made a pass at one of the co-founders, Jan...)
||Make a list of what everyone agrees to, and run through the list one
final time, making sure there are no last-minute disagreements with any item.
Email or post this list to the class (or ask a student volunteer to
do so); they have generated their own classroom guidelines for electronic
|| Total suggested time: 20 -30 minutes
||If you so desire, you can have the students look at some web pages which
deal with netiquette issues. A small sample is included here. Note
that your humble editor doesn't always agree with what these pages have to
say; some are in here specifically to provoke discussion among students.
The Ten Commandments
For Computer Ethics -- on Arlene Rinaldi's netiquette website
at Florida Atlantic University
Rules of Behaviour on the Internet -- a page hosted on the
Saskatoon Free Net, which focuses towards the message board/listserv end
Guidelines -- the guideline page for an actual 500-level class
at Penn State; potentially useful to compare to after students have generated
their own list.