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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Behaveyourself.com: Online Manners Matter

Netiquette becomes a key part of education.
By Laila Weir
Credit: Wesley Bedrosian

From email to social networking to classroom blogs, today's students are online, both in and out of school -- a lot.

But there's no one out in cyberspace to make sure they wash behind their digital ears and refuse cookies from online strangers. Given this potentially dangerous void, schools will increasingly extend their supervisory reach, giving lessons at every grade level on netiquette -- call it Online Manners and Ethics 101.

Understanding how to interact online safely and effectively is, and will be, ever more critical. As today's students grow older, they'll be using the Internet to apply to colleges and jobs, and to communicate and network with colleagues. Yet our children, however much they seem to have been born with iPods growing out of their ears, haven't learned to handle digital communications by osmosis, any more than they innately knew how to write a résumé or hold a fork.

Educators have been increasingly, and sometimes uncomfortably, aware that students need education not just in Internet tools but also in Internet behavior. Given the more spectacular worries about online predators or identity theft, efforts so far have focused most on safety: Virginia now requires Internet-safety lessons in public schools, and Texas and Illinois have passed laws encouraging them.

But forward-thinking educators are working to teach all-around netiquette. These nascent rules -- from acceptable-use policies created by school districts to guide students on the Internet to basic manners instructions for students with school email accounts -- have begun to show up in official documents. Some are written in legalese that no kid could follow, and probably no kid really reads. But some schools are making the information accessible to students -- for the children's protection as well as for their own.

"There are people who are realizing that online communication is the wave of the future," says Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). "And if our students are going to be prepared for the workplace, that's the way they're going to need to be able to communicate."

So what, exactly, is good netiquette? "A lot of it has to do with tone -- how you ask for things," says Shawn Morris, administrative coordinator of Wichita eSchool, a virtual public school in Wichita, Kansas, that reviews netiquette dos and don'ts with students. No "SHOUTING" and avoiding IM-speak in formal messages are among the most common guidelines. (See "Don't Even Think About It: The Basics of Netiquette," below, and "Beyond Emily: Post-ing Etiquette.")

Good online communication is especially important in virtual schools, where most interaction happens digitally. But with the Internet an ever-larger part of most students' lives, brick-and-mortar schools from Longmont, Colorado, to Modesto, California, are starting to teach netiquette, too.

Efforts to teach these skills to students are still spotty, though, as education blogger Will Richardson (a member of The George Lucas Educational Foundation's National Advisory Board) points out. "A lot of schools are beginning to put in Internet-safety and Internet-etiquette units," he says. "But they're not systemic in any way, and they really need to be."

Both Richardson and Julie Evans, CEO of the education nonprofit organization Project Tomorrow, say schools must incorporate netiquette better into everyday education. "Rather than having it be, 'We're all going to troop down to the computer lab and learn Internet matters,' embed it into the regular classroom experience," Evans argues. "When we're using collaborative tools in the classroom, instruct right along with them."

Living up to that ideal will take time and training as teachers themselves get more comfortable with digital tools. But whatever form it takes in the immediate future, netiquette training will -- and must -- expand.

Laila Weir is a contributing editor and writer for Edutopia. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and online publications around the world.

Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Rebecca Randall's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Common Sense Media has a lot of great resources on this topic for parents and educators. (Full disclosure, I work for the organization.) We've gotten great feedback from schools and parents about our materials, and people love our presentations. Check out the site at www.commonsensemedia.org.

Amy Dwyer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to agree with Beth. While I am trying to teach children not to forward emails with 9,000 addresses embedded, their parents are sending them things that include all the previous recipients addresses.

I have also tried to explain that they need to check the stories before passing them along. Only takes a few minutes but often adults are the worst at this.

It is true we all need to model proper Nettiquette - especially when we are trying to help children develop a good habit when they are online.

Amy

Linda Roskelley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that netiquette needs to be taught at school because many children are not getting the parental help or supervision they need. I think this is an important issue that parents often overlook. It would be great if parents were teaching their children proper internet etiquette and safety, but in reality, the kids are often the ones teaching their parents how to use computers and the internet.

Joanne James's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I will like to suggest that netiquette is important as basic grammar, but with the constant use of the internet I believe those basic skill will come. Practice will develop learning proficiency especially when school systems begin to promote excellency in technological skills. Those skills will transfer into daily use whether at school or at home. I do believe the more access to computers and technology that our students are exposed to the greater chance of netiquette.

Jennifer McCloskey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I, too believe this should become a "standard" in the classroom. Technology and the internet are the wave of the future and in order to be competitive in the workplace, students will have to know how to "talk", navigate and stay safe while online.

Carolyn Nations's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe this a very good policy to stand by. I have children and grandchildren who visit a lot of sites that put them in harms way. Teaching them these policies will help them choose the right statements to use and how to respond to properly on the internet. "The Basics of Netiquette" should be taught everywhere not just on the internet.

gaaragirl1212's picture

I am a student at Spectrum Academy High School. I was assigned to read your article and write 10 interesting facts, but I got more than I needed! This is a great article that teaches students like me how to be polite and appropriate when emailing someone or chatting online. All teachers should read this! I this article!

JuJuan's picture

I like that this article covers the basics of netiquette including not typin in all capsand that it warns you on not to do whatever you want and to think about your actions because something that is on the internet is on there forever. I also like that the article says that internet etiquette will and must expand which means that they wont stop teachin etiquette to people.

Tom Ledford's picture

I think an important element of good net manners is for all people to avoid situations where you seem to be ignoring somebody. I commonly discover that my conversation is over because the other party has "left the room" without excusing himself to the others. It only takes a moment to say, "I have to go now; goodbye."

These things happen because of lost connections, too, but I think that is a minor factor these days.

Tom Ledford's picture

I don't agree with the "urban legend" that children are somehow becoming Internet geniuses without any training or reading on the subject. I am 70 years old and have been tinkering with computers for about 30-35 years. Most kids that I know who think themselves to be computer geniuses are profoundly ignorant of the field. Most of them are familiar with a lot of games and other nonsense, but have no fundamental computer knowledge to speak of.

Throw an Excel worksheet in front of the average school kid and he will know nothing.

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