Netiquette Discussion

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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.

1)     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.)
2) 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.
3) 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?
4) 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.
5) 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...)
6) 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 etiquette.
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

General Rules of Behaviour on the Internet  -- a page hosted on the Saskatoon Free Net, which focuses towards the message board/listserv end of things...

"Netiquette" 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.