The Do’s and Don’ts of Online Learning

After a year in lockdown, and as a generation who do so much socialising online, you’d think that we’d all be experts at online work etiquette. But as the second semester has proven, very few of us are there yet. So here’s a basic guide to help students and lecturers alike navigate a world that we will all have to adapt to, at least for the foreseeable future. 

(Please note, this advice is being given by someone who has had to leave multiple meetings due to bad Wi-Fi, loud dogs, and a broken mic, so all advice should be taken with a large bucket of salt). 

The first rule seems simple, but, for some reason, even after a year, not many people seem to get it. Speak. Unmute. Say anything. If it is wrong, the tutor  will  correct you; and the more wrong you are, the longer they’ll speak for, thus saving the rest of us from having to fill the gaps. Also, the basic maths of it all is that if there’s ten of you and only 50 minutes then you only have to speak for five minutes each. That’s not even including the tutor who naturally has to bear a bit more of the burden as the only competent adult on the call. This is especially important in breakout rooms. We’re not being recorded (as far as we know) and we’re all in the same boat. Tell me about your pet fish in the background if you have to, but don’t just pretend you don’t exist. 

Obviously, this advice is not universal. Not everyone feels comfortable talking in social situations, online or not, and for those people, it’s always a good idea to let your tutor know beforehand and even share it with other members of the group so that they can take more of the burden of speaking.

Secondly, if the situation allows it, turn your camera on. It’s much easier to talk to people when you can see their face rather than a circle of their initials. The camera allows you to gauge reactions and perceive reassurance, and it makes it feel much more like social contact rather than another addition to your screen time. In return for your sacrifice, you are owed at least three reassuring head nods and encouraging (if slightly condescending) comments on your excellent point. If we all participate in this transaction, the smooth running of our tutorials is basically guaranteed. 

The third, and possibly most difficult, rule of thumb is to abolish the raise hand function, or at least start a petition to get it fixed so that it doesn’t take thirty seconds to appear and disappear every time. Surely there’s a better way to show you want to speak – especially if everyone can turn their camera on. However, if it does have to stay then we have to agree that we should never use any of the other reaction functions, a feature which makes no sense considering Teams can’t even get the chat function and the video to work at the same time.

 Speaking of not-working, all disappearances and reappearances should just be silently accepted. There’s no need to message the chat if you’ve cut out for thirty seconds because of your poor connection, nobody missed you that much (unless you’re the one person who carries the whole conversation, then the rest of us will happily pay for you to get better broadband to save us from awkward silences).

Some additional advice just for the tutors:

Please watch your lectures back. Just once. I know the sound of your own voice is always jarring but then you might notice when the video skips ahead of the slides for no apparent reason, or you move so far from the mic that no one can hear. 

Don’t include the video on Panopto. It takes up space and makes it harder when trying to balance the multiple windows that are open to watch and make notes simultaneously. We don’t need to see you really (even though it’s lovely to get a view of the many books you’ve read that are perfectly situated behind you). Also, though I won’t pretend to know how Panopto works, surely you can pause the recording if you need to blow your nose or take a gulp of water? No one needs to hear that through their headphones.

Finally, don’t embrace the silence. Resist it at all costs. Fill it with whatever you possibly have. I know we shouldn’t expect you to give impromptu lectures every week, but when the rest of us are flailing we’re relying on you to keep the conversation going. 

Overall, everyone seems to be doing much better than last semester. Despite the mishaps; the unexplained disappearances; the muted mics; and mysterious background noise, it seems like we’re all getting to grips with online learning etiquette as we approach what is hopefully the final leg of our online learning journey. Though the effort we’ve put in may seem useless in a year’s time when we return to normality, we have nothing to lose, so we may as well give it all we’ve got.