A brave new world of online behaviour

What can be done to stop the online classroom becoming as tetchy, bitchy or bad tempered as its (occasionally) physical campus equivalent?

We've all probably heard of cyber bullying, where people consistently bully a less powerful person over the internet, to embarrass or harass them in front of others.

Cyber bullying has been implicated in more than a few well-publicised teenage deaths. But can bullying and harassment happen in online education when staff and students are interacting for educational purposes?

Can online teachers or service staff be harassed or bullied by stressed and confused students? What about students harassing other students (even when they've never even met each other)? Can online teachers use their power to act unfairly towards some students, while encouraging others?

As online education is being taken up in Australia at an exponential rate, it is timely to pose the question of what can be done to stop the online classroom becoming as tetchy, bitchy or bad tempered as its (occasionally) physical campus equivalent.

Last time the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) surveyed education across Australia in 2012 there were 2.8 million (or 19% of the population) enrolled in studying for a qualification of some sort. That means there is a large potential for behaviour problems to exist - people being people. Approximately 1.2 million (42%) of these enrolled people were attending a higher education institution, 764,000 (27%) were at school, 518,200 (18%) were at TAFE and 363,600 (13%) were at other educational institutions.

Although the percentage of Australians in on online education is not yet an official ABS statistic, it is fair to assume that the ease and convenience of the online study environment, as well as technical advances, are helping online educational participation grow dramatically.

So, in this brave new world of online study behaving in a reasonable manner towards fellow students and staff is vitally important. If you're studying online, you need to be respectful of customer service staff, your instructor and your fellow students. It's really quite easy - just treat people online in the same way as you would want to be treated in person.

This includes not sharing or posting derogatory, discriminatory or abusive pictures or language in emails, social media, videos, sound recordings, online chat rooms, forums or in educational exchanges with teachers or customer service staff. The same rules apply for TAFE staff.

Other more serious breaches of online learning etiquette might also include; threats of violence, stalking or inciting hatred towards others, or particular groups of people. Examples might include vilifying people because of their age, race, sex, homosexuality, transgender or marital status, disability or religion.

The bottom line? Just because you're NOT face-to-face with someone and are studying from the comfort of your own home or office, most of what you say and do while interacting online is recorded in some way and is subject to the same rules and regulations as though you were on a campus.

Just as you can be expelled from a TAFE college for serious disciplinary breaches, the same is true for online learners.

This is an edited version of a post that was originally published on TAFEnow on 31 July 2013. TAFEnow is an Australia-wide online provider, operating out of North Coast TAFE, one of the 10 TAFE NSW Institutes. Enquiries can be directed to