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Virtual classroom etiquette: How to ensure a great learning experience

Bryan Smith
April 1, 2020

Though technology and methods change, the nature of students does not. Students are going to act like students. Whether virtually present or not.

So how do you keep order in an online classroom?

Whether you are teaching a college-level online course, or you are teaching 6th graders, a good strategy for moderation is necessary to make a great learning experience.

Students of any age can act up whether online or in person, and either way, the behavior has to be moderated to have a productive classroom. Otherwise, you may have users sending inappropriate messages, harassing each other, undermining your lecture, or they could be just plain lost.

It starts with you

Online etiquette is absolutely a thing. It’s more important to exercise formal etiquette when you are in a leadership role. This means correct spelling and purposeful choice of words. Just like in real life, different online settings call for different nuances online.

In most case, especially with younger students, it’s more formal to avoid using even common acronyms such as LOL and the like. Instead, it may be more appropriate to say ‘(laughs out loud)’ when you feel the need to express that in text.

Even though students are already familiar with how to communicate through online text, these more literary/formal approaches to online text communication are essential because they are distinct from students’ normal behavior. And it’s this distinction between pupil and instructor that is useful for establishing a formal, moderated online learning environment.

Of course, proper spelling and grammar are also essential to use around your students, because exposure to that kind of online speech is vital for young people.

In the work environment, such as email and work-texts – this is how professional adults communicate. Your online presence is an excellent opportunity to make an early impression of what mature professionalism looks like online.

This is your opportunity to be respectful, polite, formal, proper, professional, and organized. The importance of students’ exposure and acclimation to this cannot be understated.

Being able to communicate online professionally is going to be of ever-increasing importance to their futures, and that is not something that they can, for sure, learn on their own without your example.

So what does bad behavior look like online?

Online moderation is something of the skill of perception. If you’re not used to multiple layers of virtual communication, it can be challenging to spot exactly when a student is disruptive.

The very first rule is… read the rules!

The clearest and obvious negative behavior on the internet anywhere is a failure to read and abide by the posted rules.

When someone very clearly disregards a simple rule, it indicates a failure in a discipline that can and should be moderated.

That’s not to say that all forms of bad behavior are all violations of the rules.

Online community members can and will find creative ways not technically to violate any rule but still manage to be disruptive with excessive sarcasm – or simply probing the limits of what you’re willing to tolerate.

Students can purposefully be very loud on their microphones when called on for voice-calls, or they can spam chat-boxes – or even make honest mistakes such as asking questions that were already answered in the FAQ or had other resources available to them like online discussion forums before taking up class-time with their redundant question.

These are only a few examples.

So what can you do about it?

The first and most important measure to take against deliberately undesirable behavior is starting with a set of rules that you are comfortable with and making sure that everyone knows about those rules.

Beyond that, most forms of organized online communication come with moderation features built into them. Forums can have posts locked or removed, chat-boxes can have timers on them to combat the potential for people to flood the chat deliberately, and of course, in voice chats, you should have the ability to silence users who cause problems on VOIP.



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