Thursday, January 3, 2013

Netiquette Lesson Plan

I teach high school math.  I am part of a team here at my school, because freshmen and sophomores are still following a sort-of hybrid of the middle school "team model" to help them be successful, and so I have teammates who teach English and Science.  (History is an elective, believe it or not, so it's not part of the team.)  On our team, one of the things we've been frustrated by is that our students don't have good manners in real life, and that translates -- as you'd imagine it would -- to poor online etiquette.

We work with a "disadvantaged" population, if you will, so although we're not in the inner city by any stretch, we are talking about kids who don't get these kinds of lessons at home, and so it makes sense that they don't get the next step.  It's a learned skill, and hey -- we're teachers!  Works out well.

In the meantime, our school system is slowly making its way to a standards-based grading system, and as part of that process we are required to give a number of rubric-based grades each year.  The rubrics are school-wide and cover topics such as critical reading, technology, problem solving and critical thinking, civic and social skills, and a few others.

Even though I teach math, I get my fair share of student emails.  Poor student emails ... with awful etiquette.  Between the rubric requirements and the teaching opportunity that landed in my lap, I thought I had a great opportunity to do some good in the world.

I culled these rules from my own experiences and opinions AND from a bunch of online resources.  If you stumble upon something that looks a little too close to something on another site, it's an honest error -- please let me know and I will rewrite.  I did this in my "downtime" during the school day and I know there are places that are not properly cited (yet).

And in the meantime, PLEASE let me know what you think. I'd love your feedback, good and bad!


These rules are written as both requests for communications you send here at LHS and as advice for how to be a courteous email user in general.  You’ll email a lot in your “real life,” and proper email etiquette will make a huge difference in the types of responses you receive -- and whether you get what you are seeking!
1.        Be nice.  There’s an old Southern adage, “you catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.”  It means that you’re more likely to get what you want if you’re nice.  You’re more than likely sending an email because in some way, you want something (even if it’s just a good grade!), so be nice.

2.        Use a greeting with your recipient’s name.  Be sure to use proper salutations.  Unless you’ve already been emailing back and forth for a while on the same message, always use a greeting to start your message. (And be careful – check that you spelled the person’s name correctly!)

3.        People are busy, so be patient.  If you wait a day and still don’t have a response, send a polite inquiry.  Say something like, “I sent you a message yesterday and I’m fearing you didn’t receive it … “ and then either copy and paste your original or summarize it.  DON’T just forward an email you already sent, without including an explanation.  It comes across as angry and rude.  Of course, it’s possible that your email was just missed – so sending a courteous follow-up is important for both you and for the recipient.

4.        Be realistic about reply times.  If you send an email at 2 a.m. on a work or school night and expect a response, that’s not realistic.  There’s no harm in sending a late-night message while you’re thinking of something, but be reasonable in your expectations for a reply – and keep in mind that you may not get it before you see your teacher or boss in person. If that happens, politely ask your teacher, “did you see my email?”  Don’t be argumentative or upset.

5.        Be courteous!  Check for grammar and spelling in your email – and especially check for correct capitalizations.  Don’t use text-speak.  Never send an email in anger.

6.        But what if you ARE angry?  Send an email that says something like, “Mrs. M---, I’m upset about _____.  Is it possible for us to talk about it?  Thank you, YourName.”  You’ve conveyed that you’re upset but you haven’t gotten into the details – and so you haven’t given yourself a chance to ramp back up and get angry again.  In turn, you’ve been professional and courteous and not ended up emailing something you’d end up regretting (or given your teacher or boss a chance to take that anger as an excuse to not budge on whatever it was that upset you to begin with!)  Remember that time helps – and if you’re polite and reasonable you may find that whatever the issue was originally, your teacher or boss has also had time to think and change his or her perspective.

7.        Remember that email is not always your best choice for communicating.  The value of a face-to-face chat is HUGE … and some stuff is just better handled in person than via email.  Make an appointment (even via email!) if you must, but don’t be afraid to chat in person.  Be respectful and reasonable, though – don’t barge in when your boss or teacher is clearly busy and expect to get immediate time or a satisfactory response.  If they’re busy, ask them when would be a good time to chat.   

8.        Unless you’re emailing your friends, treat the recipient of your email like someone you’re trying to get to hire you. Would you email Human Resources and say, “im writing 2c if ull hire me. I think I’d really add 2 ur team :) ?” (I hope not!) Speak to your teacher like you’d speak to your boss. Avoid abbreviations and “emoticons,” and pay attention to the basic rules of grammar.
9.        Remember that off-time is off-time.  Yes, many people have smart phones and check their email frequently.  But that doesn’t mean they check their work email all the time, or that they are necessarily able to act on a work email when they are away from work.  More importantly, they don’t owe you an explanation as to why they could not reply to your message.  Whether it’s your boss, your potential boss, your teacher, or anyone else – if they’re going to spend their time off reading and replying to your emails, be sure to have the courtesy to say “please” and “thank you.”  And don’t be upset if you don’t get a reply until business/school hours resume.

10.    Be as concise as possible.  Your teacher or boss doesn’t need to know what you did over the weekend or all the sordid details of whatever it is that triggered your message.  Get to the point of your email as quickly as possible and leave out irrelevant details.  (It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “it’s a long story and I am happy to share the details later.”)

11.    Stick to a simple font.  Most teachers and businesses prefer papers to be in Times New Roman, size 12 font.  Your email need not be quite so specific, but you should use a standard, non-frilly font and a dark, easy-to-read font color.  (Black is best, because it’s easiest to read in any browser.)  Keep in mind that colors and special fonts don’t always translate well from email-system to email-system, so your message may end up hard to read or garbled if your message is overly stylized.  Stay away from lots of colors, heavy graphics or backgrounds, and comic-style fonts.  Remember your audience: you are trying to make a good impression, not run a lemonade stand.   (Steer clear of “comic sans”!)

12.    Read your message aloud before you hit send.  Email is notorious for “losing” tone-of-voice, and it is very easy to mistake someone’s sarcasm or attempt at humor for being angry or mean.  Re-read your messages out loud before sending them to ensure you’ve achieved the proper mood or emotion. You want to come across as respectful, professional, and friendly, not demanding, rude, and sullen.

13.    DO NOT SCREAM!  Using all caps is a major faux pas.  It is considered yelling.   

14.    Use a helpful subject line.  Don’t put “student concern,” or “important,” but instead put something like “Question about Algebra 2 Homework,” or “project questions.”  The more specific you can be, the more likely it is that someone who is quickly reading through their emails will stop at yours, read it, and answer it.  And don’t leave the subject line blank, or you may trigger a spam filter and your message may end up lost or blocked.

15.    Don’t put the entire message in the subject.  Subject lines should be short.  Think of them as a title for the email. They should never contain the entire message.  And remember, too, that many email programs will truncate the subject if it is too long – so if you want your recipient to be able to read and understand it, keep it short.

16.    Use paragraphs.  If you’ve got more than a sentence or two, use paragraphs to break up the body of your message.  Again, keeping in mind that some people check their emails from their phones, it might even be helpful to put an extra “return” between paragraphs to make the message easier to read.  Too much in one paragraph, and the recipient is likely to stop reading – or at least, to stop reading carefully.

17.    Put your message in context.  If you’re replying to a message, include at least some reference to what you’re answering.  If you can’t include the original message, include a sentence or two that refers to it and explains what your own message is about.   Even if the other person sent the original email, that doesn’t mean that when they get your reply they will necessarily remember what you’re replying to.  Help them out, and don’t make them have to track down stuff from their sent folder – because most people won’t.

18.    Don’t use reply-all.  There are so few occasions where it is appropriate, and it’s so easy to abuse it (or accidentally use it and send something you didn’t mean to send to people you didn’t mean to send it to …) When you hit “reply,” double-check that you did not hit “reply-all,” and don’t send your message until you’ve confirmed this.

19.    Be mindful of your signature file.  If you have one, make sure it’s appropriate and not overly-long.  You don’t need clip-art.  You can include a statement about something important to you, but keep in mind that political and religious statements can offend recipients, even if they never mention it to you. Keep your email professional.  And most importantly, if your signature file includes phone numbers or web addresses, make sure they are correct!

20.    Remember that your email conveys who you are. The nicer you are both inside and outside school or work, and certainly in your email communications, the more seriously teachers and employers will take you. If you prove to be professional, smart and polite, they may be more lenient when you ask for an extension on an assignment or time off from work.   It will also help you to earn good references down the road – and you never know when you may need them!

21.    Remember that once it’s written and sent, it’s forever and it could end up being public.  Don’t say something in an email that you wouldn’t want to read out loud to your mom or grandmother, or see on the front page of a newspaper.  The Internet is forever – and email messages are, in fact, subject to subpoena.  That means if you write it, it can be read and used against you.

And one last helpful hint:  if you’re sending a message you really want to be perfect – such as for a job you want -- don’t put the address in the “to” section until you’ve proofed your message. Put it as the first line in the body of the email, and then paste it in the “to” section when you’re ready.  That way you can’t accidentally send the message before you’re ready!  (And check for attachments; if you say you’re attaching something, be sure it’s there!)

Now that you’ve read the rules, here is your assignment:

1.    Go to the following Web site and read the article.

2.    Go to the following sites and check out the email/netiquette policies from some universities. -- click on the link for Curtin University of Technology

3.    Send Mrs. M-- an email* with at least one thing you learned from the first article, and at least two things you learned from the email policies at the universities.  Be specific and clearly explain what you learned from which site.  Be sure to follow email etiquette!  Also include a few sentences about what you learned/think of the 21 points in the reading.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it here just in case:  your work needs to be your own.  There is plenty of information on the various sites, so I do not expect to see the same few answers repeated over many student emails to me. 

Your email must be received by 2 p.m. on January 11, 2013.   You will receive three grades:
1.    A daily grade for completion according to the requirements above
2.    A rubric grade for technology
3.    A rubric grade for reading, assessed by the quality of the responses you provide to questions 1 and 2 above.

* Mrs. M's email address is

NOTE: If you do not have your FirstClass login information, see Mrs. M-- and she will get you a pass to guidance.

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