Cyber Civility Matters (Always)

A pandemic occurs, and online teaching experts pop up every place you turn. A lot of virtual communication advice and how to host a remote event tutorials going around as well. The one thing that I have not read a lot about is the importance of cyber civility and online courtesy, regardless of how overwhelmed we are by what is going on around us.

Bridge across the Seine at Asnieres, Van Gogh

Please try to think tranquil thoughts during this unprecedented time. Here at your Online Teacher’s Lounge, we want to be your go to resource for all things online instruction. Here’s a quick E-Communication Best Practices overview to ensure that you put your virtual best foot forward.

First, pay attention to your level of stress, and do not attempt to maintain constant email monitoring right now. It is not logical to introduce further distractions when our stressed brains are so overwhelmed. Turn off your alerts, pay attention to your work, and check email only periodically while you are working on the authentic task of the day whether it is professional or creative.

Especially now, prioritization is key. Stop the glorification of busy. Slow down when communicating online. Busy is not the same as happy. Stop acting like you are too busy to pay attention to grammar, punctuation, or basic courtesy such as salutations in your e-communication. A quick, “Hello Angie” or “Thanks again, Paul” can go a long way to warming up the back and forth virtual exchange. Simple things, like using the person’s name (our heart’s song) can enhance the flow of information between parties in email. Also, email is electronically discoverable in court. Think of all your emails with students, colleagues, and supervisors as a script you would be asked to read out loud in a court of law. Is there anything in there that would make you pause if you were reciting it to others? If a line or phrase makes you pause, delete it before you press send.

E-mail etiquette is pretty basic, yet it is worth reviewing the big rules for those of you who may be a bit rusty: Avoid all caps, it looks like you are yelling at the reader, and tone is inferred by the reader. Make sure to think about how the message could be interpreted, and save a draft to send later if you have any concern about your tone. Avoid TLDR: (too long, didn’t read) emails that contain more than two paragraphs of text per message. 8-12 sentences should be the maximum for an email to a colleague. Use the subject line so that the material is easy to find later for the recipient.

By the time the recipient has read your email, they should (a) know what you need from them, (b) when the task needs to be done by, and (c) authentically want to help you (you’ve provided persuasive evidence to encourage action). When you need quick turnaround, use instant message (like the phone call of online communication). Emails should be treated like paper mail, something that you send into the world and wait at least 24 hours before you remind a person of your message.

If you can abide by the rules above, you are going to wow your office with your e-communication excellence. Please attempt to assume good and constructive intentions on the part of your team and your students. We live in uncertain times, and being polite should be the foundation of all our virtual exchanges now and always.

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