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Students, professors adopt new online classroom etiquette

Junior psychology major Katie Thielen works on a discussion board assignment on her computer at home Aug. 29. Some students say they enjoy the convenience of online classes — while others are still adjusting to newly-defined classroom norms. (Lauren Shoughro)

There was a time when classroom etiquette included wearing shoes, actively listening when someone was speaking and choosing jeans over pajamas. Today, however, online classes are switching up those long-established norms. 

Some students said they enjoy — maybe even prefer — the convenience of completing classes and coursework from the comfort of their home. 

“Personally, I think I do better,” said Megan Clare, a senior nursing major at Westminster College. “Whether I’m wearing pajamas or not, or with food around me. Even though that’s distracting, I think it’s the most comfortable and I’m most productive that way.” 

Although many Westminster classes are now held over video calls and asynchronous instruction to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, some professors said they miss the authenticity of the classroom. Some said they try to recreate the in-person atmosphere over Zoom. 

“Usually for classes, you know, I try to dress as I would in class [but] a little bit more professionally,” said Han Kim, professor of public health. “You know, just to make it look like it’s a class. I’m trying to dress as I would in class.”

Online classes have also changed how Kim prepares for classes. Now, he said he has to make sure all the internet tabs he needs are opened so he’s not stuck “rummaging through my computer” during the digital class meeting.

Arguably, one of the biggest drawbacks of virtual classes is the absence of face-to-face interaction between students and professors. 

Instead, professors address students through computer cameras. In some cases, they speak to a blank screen as some students opt to turn their cameras off. 

Although it can be awkward, Kim argued it shouldn’t be required for students to keep their cameras on. 

“I think that’s really inappropriate for professors to start at these standards,” Kim said. “We’re entering into people’s homes and their private spaces. Before this, we didn’t do that. Now we’re entering people’s spaces. […] So I think we need to keep that in mind. So to impose our own standards on them, I think it’s really inappropriate.”

Clare, a senior at Westminster, agreed — noting rules like these should be posed as suggestions rather than requirements. 

“I think it’s good to give people that option [to turn on their camera] and more encourage it rather than make it mandatory,” Clare said. “I like to have my camera on just because it doesn’t bother me, but I understand that maybe some people aren’t comfortable with where they live or they just, like, don’t feel comfortable doing it.”


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Grace French is a communication major and business minor from Grand Rapids, Michigan. She loves photography, design and film production. In her free time she likes to swim, cook and spend time outside.

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