Home Online Learning Leading by Example: Professionalism in the Online Classroom
Leading by Example: Professionalism in the Online Classroom

Leading by Example: Professionalism in the Online Classroom


By Loren Germann-McClain
Senior Academic Advisor II, School of STEM, APUS

When you’re taking courses online, it is important to recognize that despite not being in a physical setting, you’re still in a classroom. Consequently, there are certain professional behaviors that are expected of you when you communicate with your instructors, academic advisors and peers. Here are a few tips to help you maintain your professionalism in an online setting.

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Address Your Instructor Properly

Most instructors will tell you how they would like to be addressed. You can often find this information in the introductory post or in the announcements at the beginning of the course.

If you do not see it mentioned, I suggest you address instructors with a doctoral degree as Dr., although Professor, Mr. or Ms. are also acceptable. As a rule of thumb, it’s best not to address an instructor by their first name, unless they have expressed their desire to be addressed that way.

Use a Professional Email Address

Be sure to check your university email address frequently when you’re taking courses to make sure you are not missing any important communications. If you prefer not to use your university-issued email address for correspondence with various school departments, create a professional email address using a free email server such as Yahoo or Google.

Try using variations of your “lastname_firstname” when you create a new email address, and strive to use this email address just for your professional correspondence, such as academic-related activity or for job searching.

While you could use your personal email address, being known as the student with the witty email address can lead to more issues. For example, a nonprofessional email address may result in your email going to a spam folder, which may lead to it being unseen by your instructor.

Be Mindful of Your Tone When Writing an Email or Forum Post

The online environment makes conveying your tone extremely difficult, so take a moment to re-read your work before posting it. Understand that your humor and sarcasm may be misconstrued by other people, despite all good intentions.

If you read something written by a peer or instructor that you think comes across as hostile or sarcastic, try to assume that no malicious intent was intended. Step away from the post, then and come back to it later and read it again with a more positive attitude. Sometimes distancing yourself from an upsetting post can help you refocus and interpret it differently.

Breathe through Your Frustrations When You’re Upset

It’s easy to become frustrated at times. However, consider a few things before letting your frustrations out in your online classroom:

  • If the person was in front of me, would I say this out loud?
  • Am I putting anyone into an uncomfortable position?
  • How would I feel and respond if I received this message?

Be Mindful of Security in What You Submit

If you hesitate or have any inclination that perhaps you shouldn’t send something you’ve written, don’t submit it. Use this test: Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t want to see posted on the front page of a newspaper.

Things that are published online cannot be erased. In addition, posts and emails can be easily forwarded to someone else.

Use Professional Writing in Forums and Discussions

Your weekly forum (for classrooms in Sakai) and discussions (for classrooms in MyClassroom) are your chance to engage in a collaborative and open dialogue with your instructor and peers. Here are a few things to look for when you write and respond to your weekly posts:

  • Be sure to cite all quotes, references and sources in the proper writing style citation format for your school.
  • Spell-check your work before submitting it. If you are unsure if you are using the correct words, try a free grammar check plug-in for your browser, but don’t rely heavily on it to catch everything!
  • Ask open-ended questions. Questions that prompt discussion through peer-response are good to throw into your posts, because they open up further conversation, critical thinking and learning.

When you engage with your peers in the online classroom environment, please do so respectfully and professionally to show your spirit of cooperation. This behavior will help everyone in the online classroom to feel more comfortable and enjoy online conversations, and it also helps learning opportunities to flow more smoothly.

We want your time at the university to be engaging and fulfilling, and we want each interaction to be a positive experience. ­When you need help, remember that your Academic Advising team is with you every step of the way and be sure to contact us.

About the Author

Loren Germann-McClain is currently in her second year as a Senior Academic Advisor II with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at American Public University System. She holds an M.A. in English – Rhetoric and Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as an M.A. in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University.

Loren previously worked in human resources and public relations at a public library in Indiana, where she helped develop a project to bring mental health first aid and awareness to public and academic libraries across the state. She has earned grants to help develop coding programs for school-age children and develop free, extracurricular activities to help align with the Indiana State standards for computer science, technology, and coding. Her work has helped empower Hoosier students to be equipped with the critical and computational problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed in a digitally powered and ever-evolving world. 



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