Elements of Good Digital Conduct

Preamble

The following points are an extension of our department’s Code of Conduct, in which we outline our commitment to high-quality teaching and research and its requirements from students and staff. For further information, please see: https://www.uni-potsdam.de/en/iaa/our-department/conduct

As we are now facing another semester of digital learning, we propose these ‘Elements of Good Digital Conduct’ as a guideline for online courses and digital teaching sessions via Zoom. We hope this will facilitate the communication between students and staff and ensure a productive digital working environment despite difficult conditions.

Outline:

1.         Communication with Course Instructors and Lecturers

2.          Course Formats and Commitments

3.          Digital Meetings via Zoom etc.

1. Communication with Course Instructors and Lecturers

Though Moodle is a useful platform to manage course content and participate in online assignments, it is not an ideal communication channel for one-on-one conversations. If you want to get in touch with your lecturer, please send them an e-mail rather than contacting them via Moodle messages, as their reply might get lost. In order to avoid unnecessary e-mails and keep the communication manageable for lecturers, please make sure that you have checked the relevant channels for information about degree programmes, course requirements, etc. first. If you have more complex matters to discuss or want further feedback from your lecturer, please check their (digital) office hours or ask for a digital appointment via e-mail. In turn, lecturers will see to it that your inquiries are answered in due time.

2. Course Formats and Commitments

There are several formats available for online teaching, ranging from synchronous to asynchronous. There is also a hybrid form including elements of both formats.

  • Synchronous online teaching means there will be digital meetings during the regular weekly slots assigned to the seminar.
  • Asynchronous seminars will not depend on digital meetings but will regularly provide material (such as texts or video lectures) for each lesson on Moodle and ask you to complete weekly/biweekly assignments.
  • The hybrid or mixed format of asynchronous seminars with synchronous elements means that there will be some digital meetings (during the time slots announced for the class).

The Department of English and American Studies announces the format and the potential times slots for digital meetings at the beginning of the semester in our course descriptions on PULS. When planning your courses, we suggest that you plan them according to these time slots and according to the online format that suits your needs and technical equipment. This also ensures that you have no collision in scheduling the synchronous Zoom meetings, as well as the occasional Zoom meetings of the mixed-format classes. Please only register for seminars in which you can actively participate and where you can attend the required meetings. If you are unsure whether you can take part on a regular basis, contact the seminar instructor immediately to discuss possible solutions. Please understand that the time and date slots cannot be easily changed – they have been coordinated with other courses, so changing them to include more students is likely to exclude others.

Instructors commit to finding ways of ‘translating’ their course content and techniques into an online format to the best of their abilities, and to making course requirements and all online-related procedures clear to students during the first class session.

3. Digital Meetings via Zoom etc.

Seminar discussions via Zoom are a challenge for lecturers and students alike. But here are some pointers that will help improve these digital meetings and facilitate our online conversation.

  • In your Zoom settings, please make sure you use a name that enables the instructor and the other participants to identify you without problems. Using only your first names could lead to confusion when two or more people share the same names, so please check with your instructor to see what works best for each class.
  • Please try to ensure before class that your technical devices – computer, internet connection, camera video and audio – are working properly. We know that this might entail difficulties. For some suggestions that may help you with internet problems or other technical problems, please see this link.
  • While it is often heard that your camera background should be appropriate for a meeting, your everyday environment (in most cases) will do for online classes. However, avoid unnecessary moving around from spot to spot and taking the active camera with you as this might distract the other participants.
  • Even though there are many reasons why you might want to turn your camera off, it really makes a meeting more productive when we can see each other’s faces, and it creates a more positive learning atmosphere. So please start your camera when joining a meeting, unless your instructor asks you to do otherwise. There might be technical or other reasons to abstain from activating your camera – in this case, please communicate this to the seminar host.
  • Like in our on-site seminars, please refrain from eating during a digital meeting.
  • Digital presentations require sufficient coordination with your instructor and your colleagues. Please confer with your instructor on possible medium, format, platforms, etc. in advance. The following questions need to be addressed: How long is the presentation going to be? Will it be a PowerPoint presentation with recorded voice-over? Or a video? What will the roles of other students be? Are they 'only' listeners? Will there be interactive elements? Will they be invited in a discussion of specific points after the presentation? Seek advice on the technical possibilities and limitations when it comes to giving PowerPoint presentations, and make sure that you are able to handle the technical complexities. Note that some formats – for example, giving a 'live' PowerPoint presentation by screen sharing – may involve unforeseen complications. And if you have recorded a PowerPoint or video, please make sure that you send the file early to the instructor and the other students so that everyone has sufficient time to prepare.
  • Please use the chat function constructively (for example, to indicate that you want to speak, or to share a link with useful information). At the same time, please keep in mind that moderating or following both the discussion and the chat poses a challenge to all participants, so use this feature sparingly and in a manner agreed on by the course.

If you experience problems – both technical and content-related – with a course, contact your instructor early. The University of Potsdam is not a regular online university and students and staff are still relatively new to online teaching. The Department of English and American Studies deeply appreciates constructive feedback and criticism from students and we try our best to continuously improve and adjust our online teaching accordingly. However, like our students, lecturers are faced with new demands and challenges and we all should keep that in mind and try to be patient with each other to ensure that our exchange stays productive and supportive.