Community Ground Rules

From the first moment a student accesses your course, the tone is set. Your course homepage, syllabus and other “getting started” materials play key roles in the how your students begin to relate to their experience in your online class. Setting an inviting and supportive tone is especially important in supporting the success of our first-generation college students and other underserved groups, who are more likely to feel self-doubt and exhibit engagement apprehension in academic environments. Including a set of Community Ground Rules in your course syllabus is a great way to communicate that your students will be valued participants in a learning community and articulate what that means.

Below is a set of sample Community Ground Rules I have used in my online classes. They are included in my book, Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies, and I have shared them in the Public Domain, which means you are free to re-use and adapt them in your own class without permission or attribution. Do you have modifications to share? Please share your ideas in a comment at the bottom of the page!

Sample Community Ground Rules

A community is a group of individuals who work together to support a common goal or interest. In this online class, we work together to support the successful achievement of our learning outcomes. In an effort to ensure our community develops, thrives and sustains throughout our time together, the following ground rules will be in effect at all times.

  1. Treat contributions made by other members of the class with respect.
  2. Reach out and help when you see the need. And ask for help when you need it.
  3. Have patience and a sense of humor with technology. There will be hiccups, expect them.
  4. Keep an open mind. If you’re feeling reluctant, that’s ok. Take it one step at a time and look at this as an opportunity to learn something new.
  5. Contribute regularly to collaborative activities to ensure other members of the community have ample opportunity to read/listen, reflect, and respond to your ideas.
  6. Respect the diverse opinions and viewpoints of each member of our community. Differences allow us to learn and grow together.
  7. Understand that communications shared through text have a higher likelihood of being misinterpreted than the spoken word. Therefore, when you type a thought or a comment, read it carefully before you submit it. If you question the way it is worded, read it out loud to yourself. If you still question the way it’s phrased, rewrite it.
  8. Contribute regularly to group dialogue, including blog posts and replies. The contributions of each individual play a role in the collective strength and diversity of our community.
  9. Members of our community are restricted to enrolled members of our class, in an effort to maintain a safe, trustworthy discussion environment. [If students will be engaging in interactions in the public web, note those activities here (and in other parts of your course where those activities are explained) to ensure they know who their audience is before they contribute. Learning to share appropriately in the public web is an important component of developing of digital citizenship and it’s your job to ensure students are clear about who has access to their work.]
  10. All image and video content shared within this community will reflect acceptable academic standards. You are expected to use discretion and, if asked, you will be expected to demonstrate how your content supports the theme of our community: “[enter a description of the community’s theme here].”
  11. Any community member has the ability to create a new discussion forum in our course. However, the individual who creates the forum immediately takes on the responsibility of moderating it. This means you have committed to regularly responding to new comments and greeting new members of the forum.
  12. If, at any time, you feel that any of these ground rules have been violated by a member of our community, you are encouraged to bring your concern directly and immediately to [enter your name], our community leader. Clearly identify which ground rule has been violated and include specific evidence of the violation in your email. Your concerns will be addressed promptly with careful consideration in an individualized manner.

These Sample Community Ground Rules by Michelle Pacansky-Brock are shared in the Public Domain and may be re-used and adapted without permission or attribution.

Michelle (@brocansky) is Faculty Mentor, Digital Innovation for @ONE and the OEI and author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. Michelle's work ensures CCC faculty and staff have opportunities to engage and develop through networked learning and the use of emerging technologies. Learn more about Michelle at brocansky.com.

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