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.

Posted in Articles, Course Design Showcase, equity, humanizing, Online Teaching, Rubric Section B.

Michelle (@brocansky) is Faculty Mentor, Online Teaching & Learning for @ONE and CVC-OEI and author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies. Michelle began teaching in the CCC system in 1999, has been teaching online since 2003, and has been an online educational developer since 2009. She also teaches the History of Photography online for Mt. San Jacinto College. Learn more about Michelle at or connect with her on Twitter @brocansky.


  1. I like these ground rules… it reminds me of moving int o a new apt or condo complies with common ground rules in order to live there and create a harmonious environment for all! It is also good to know what is covered by the HOA and what is our own reposnability inso far as what is our responsability etc especially if we start our own discussion.

    One point I would add to clause 12 is that if we “report” abuse or anyone “breaking the rules” that our comments will be kept confidential . This would make it feel safer to share and it is not something I would choose to presume.

    • Hi Carolyn. Thank you for your comment. I’m glad to hear the ground rules have got you thinking — and exploring how to improve upon them. I like your suggestion. Brené Brown speaks about the need to create “marble jar moments” to earn trust from others. I think your modification might do just that.

  2. I never knew that I could schedule office hours through scheduling. So far what I have seen/read has been beneficial. This is my first time I have taught on line and have found that my greatest fear was not realized. I can still teach the way I have done face to face via Zoom. Thankfully I have always used Canvas and now I have learnt so many wonderful tools which will be transferred to my face to face class.

  3. I have never taught online before. Definitely will modify these ground rules into my class a bit different from face to face class:). I also like Carolyn’s idea to keep our students feel safe when they do something right. Thank you.

  4. Thank you. These community ground rules serve as a means of clarifying expectations which enhance the overall course experience.

  5. This set of rules will definitely serve to provide a safe atmosphere for my students to advance academically. Thank you!

  6. Thank you for an excellent guide to setting up ground rules. I plan on using most of them with some minor adaptations as a basis for my future classes. Well done.

  7. Very interesting. I had never thought about making basic courtesy so explicit–this will be quite helpful.

  8. These are especially helpful in discussion posts. I tell students to not only keep it civil but to add constructive or helpful feedback.

  9. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As a new online instructor, there are many challenges, new terms and methods that I need to learn. Your Sample Community Ground Rules are great! I might edit them to use my voice and teaching style. These will also be my guide in creating my own, when I feel ready. I truly appreciate your mentorship.



  10. Michelle Pacansky-Brock

    Thank you for sharing your ground rules and allowing us to use them. Your assistance is greatly appreciated. I started teaching online the Spring of 2020. This has been a difficult journey.

    Thank you



  11. I plan not only on using them for future on-line classes, but on sharing them with colleagues. Thanks so much for these and all your contributions to the field.

  12. Thank you for sharing your ground rules with us and allowing us to use it. I intend to look at it closely and modify it to my course. Having such a sample to look at helps, especially for those of us that will be engaged in online teaching for the first time.

  13. Thanks for the insightful ground rules! They will be very helpful in setting up and maintaining a consistent “tone” to my on line course.

  14. Thank you for sharing this easy to use guide on building community ground rules. You have reaffirmed the importance that creating a positive and inviting academic environment plays a key role on how the student relate to the classroom experience. This will certainly be on the top of my list to review and incorporate into all my classes.

  15. Thank you for sharing it. I’ll definitely use to construct one for my classes.It’s a very helpful tool!

  16. I have found that creation of ground rules are effective and places everyone on the same page with regard to conduct. It helps make social expectations clear from the outset. Very useful!

  17. These are so perfect! I am grateful you gave us permission to use and adapt these to our needs! So glad I don’t have to reinvent the wheel! I am currently taking an Intro to Online teaching where I will be creating my online Applied Math Concepts course I will be teaching next Spring at the Community College of Vermont.

  18. These rules are great especially for those students and teachers ( even myself) who have hesitated to share with others.
    These will help give the reluctant student a plan for how to communicate more effectively and with less anxiety.

  19. These rules are a great way to ensure that “Netiquette” is followed so that everyone feels safe and included. I especially like the section on how writing is not the same as spoken language: there are no facial expressions, body language and verbal emphasis to let people know what your attitude really is.

  20. Really appreciate the depth of thought that went into this list. It shows that the instructor really cares about their input and learning outcome. I am in process of reworking my existing Syllabus to bring it more into line with my class subject. Look forward to applying the things mention in this module.

  21. You called these rules” Community Ground Rules” and I will call them the Golden Rules in communication. They are quite great and useful. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Thank you for sharing Net Etiquitte. I enjoyed the passages extracted from the book. I look forward to reading the book in its entirity

  23. Thank you for sharing these community rules. Our students are definitely the most valuable elements in our classes.

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