Student communication expectations

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When students feel safe and welcome in a classroom, especially an online one, they thrive. They are more motivated and more willing to take risks and express their ideas and insights. Faculty can cultivate a sense of safety and belonging by encouraging and maintaining an expectation of mutual respect and civility. This resource will discuss strategies for setting communication expectations for students.

Missouri Online recommends

Missouri Online recommends that online instructors clearly state professional/communication expectations for discussions, email, and other course interactions (see item #8 in the Quality Course Review 5 Pillars Rubric.)

Setting expectations

A best practice at the beginning of each semester is to introduce, explain, and model civil online discourse. This is often referred to as netiquette. The value of providing communication expectations in the syllabus or a welcome module is to demonstrate a commitment to civility early in the semester. Using positive language to do so builds a culture of goodwill and is an effective way to set the tone for a course (Galbraith & Jones, 2010).

Syllabus statements regarding netiquette often include the following elements:

  • A description of the desired culture for learning
  • A specific list of expectations or recommendations for interacting with each other online
  • A discussion of the benefits of meeting these expectations or recommendations

Outside of syllabus statements, you could also invite students to participate in a discussion about netiquette and civility, or students could collaborate with you to develop norms and guidelines on respectful communication. Assignment instructions and rubrics are another way to reinforce your expectations for professional and civil communication.

Campus policies and resources

Student-instructor communication

In addition to emphasizing expectations for student-student communication, you may like to discuss and emphasize student-instructor communication. Professionalism in emails from students is a common concern for faculty (Kyaw, 2023). Here are some strategies that you may adopt and use to support and encourage best practices with email among your students.

  1. Discussion: Hold a conversation, either synchronously or asynchronously, with students about the characteristics of  appropriate communication with all members of the learning community, including you.
  2. Authentic assessments: For an assignment or activity, ask students to write an email similar to one they would while in the workforce. Such an assignment would offer a meaningful purpose, genre, and audience.
  3. Modeling: Write emails and announcements with the structure, language, and tone you would like students to use. If a student sends an email you consider inappropriate, reply in the manner that you would prefer to see used.

You may sometimes receive emails from students’ personal email accounts. When you receive these messages, please do not respond to them but instead forward them with your reply to the student’s institutional email address. Personal email addresses raise questions and issues involving FERPA. Emphasize to students that they should use only their school email address to communicate with you.

By using syllabus statements and teaching professional email practices, you can encourage students to use civil and respectful discourse in the online learning environment. With such a culture present, all students can better focus on their learning and prepare for the workforce!


Arend, B., Archer-Kuhn, B., Kazuko Hiramatsu, Ostrowdun, C., Seeley, J., & Jones, A. (2021). Minding the Gap: Comparing Student and Instructor Experiences with Critical Reflection. Teaching and Learning Inquiry: The ISSOTL Journal, 9(1), 317–332.

Galbraith, M.W., & Jones, M.S. (2010). Understanding incivility in online teaching. Journal of Adult Education, 39(2), 1-10.

Kyaw, A. (2023). E-Communication skills: Bridging a gap between generations X, Z. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education40(11), 28–31.

Our top 3 library resources

The articles below were hand-picked by our team of designers, specifically for the UM System community, to bring you the best content we could find! Check with your university library for access via subscription or interlibrary loan.

Faculty increasingly interact with students over electronic avenues, especially in online classes. While doing so, faculty report some concerns about the communication skills of students. What are these concerns, and how can we address them?

Kyaw, A. (2023). E-Communication skills: Bridging a gap between generations X, Z. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 40(11), 28–31.

We often may feel like we are going through the motions when writing syllabi, but a syllabus holds significant value for students. This article discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has driven syllabi to become more meaningful and useful for students and play an essential role in the learning experience. It includes tips and advice to consider when developing your syllabus.

Mikolon, T.M., Murphy, B.N., & Justice, E. (2022). The online syllabus: A means of communication to enhance student success. Distance Learning, 19(4), 69–80.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning but left many scrambling and confused, especially about how to encourage civil conversations on the internet. Mistretta proposes twenty-five rules of considerable conduct in online learning environments. These simple and memorable guidelines should support all in reaching the better angels of their nature when interacting with others online.

Mistretta, S. (2021). The new netiquette: Choosing civility in an age of online teaching and learning. International Journal on E-Learning, 20(3), 323-345.

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Discussion boards

Our online discussion board resource page describes how to build a learning community, provide structure, and use resources and strategies for handling potential emergencies.

Created on: November 16, 2023