Do We Need a New Netiquette?

I participated in the ELI Web Seminar on March 3, 2008, Many Students Loosely Joined: Social Software and Distance Education Learners, presented by Terry Anderson. Terry’s presentation was very good and supported many of the notions which Britt Watwood, Jeff Nugent and I discuss as we find our own ways in learning about, living in and introducing others to the Wild West of W2.0 teaching and learning opportunities. I appreciated many of the visuals and particularly liked the Venn diagram which placed learning at the overlapping center of content, tools and agents. His mention of the site perked my interest as it is relates to a concept I’ve been developing for some time around the need for a non-proprietary central organizing agent to keep track of the threads of conversations which are occurring across various services and means of communication. His prediction of a transition from an LMS to a PLE seems to parallel my own thinking and seems to be in the early stages of unfolding.

My posting here is not to critique Terry’s talk, but the activity which surrounded it and its relationship to the activities, such as the Twitter exchanges during Bob Young’s presentation at the closing session of the ELI conference (see Gardner Campbell’s blog). Granted, we were invited to text message during Terry’s session and nothing like the Twitter (activity which was also invited) event mentioned above happened, but the text interchanges triggered some thoughts about contemporary attendance and participation in presentations. Something is shifting. The presenter is no longer the central focus “in the room”. As presenters are framing and delivering an idea, they are triggering not only a response, but a parallel “meeting” in which participants listen to the presenter for key ideas about which they text, chat, twitter, blog, and use every means of communication to share their comments, ask questions of other participants, complain about the presenter, and who knows what else. The action is in the “chat room”, so to speak!

As I listened to Terry and developed my own questions, my focus became divided. Questions and answers were flying in the text box below the presentation window and Terry was dissolving in the background. Were we rude? Do our contemporary actions equate to pockets of students huddling together and chatting in the traditional lecture hall. Have we arrived at a new definition of netiquette? Are we distracting to the presenter? Are we engaged with the presenter? Are we enhancing the learning opportunity? Are we changing the conversation?

I see good things here, but I feel bad at the same time. I’m seizing the opportunity to interact and learn from others, but at the same time, I feel rude to the presenter. Do we need to develop a new netiquette or set of tools to help us get the best from everyone? Should online seminars or F2F presentations be followed with opportunities for a multi-modal “chat”?

What are your thoughts?


  1. Interesting comments, Bud. I wonder if part of our discomfort (and I say discomfort because the underlying issue is a perceived need for netiquette rules) might lie in our culture rooted in the past. I am old enough that I still get upset with people wearing ball caps in restaurants or talking on cellphones in public places. Yet the younger generation sees nothing wrong with these two actions. I am reminded of a friend who was walking with his teen daughter and a colleague and scolded his daughter for text messaging when she should focus on the conversation happening between the three of which she replied, "But Dad, I am conversing with a dozen people right now!" Long winded way to say the action happening back channel may be the norm for digital natives.

  2. I think your observation of generational differences is correct. However, I am interested in the ready-fire-aim nature of the back-channel exchanges and how they may or may not be impacted by the ability or lack thereof to concentrate on the whole picture as being presented

    I am willing to rethink my original perception about the conflict of cognitive processing demands during such an event. Research indicates that the brain processes visual and auditory information differently and can therefore accomplish that simultaneously and one can enhance the other in the development of understanding. However, when two of the same types of input are provided, they provide a conflict in processing. I was focused on the conflict of multiple text messages, but as I reflect on the cases in my post, I realize now that there were at least 3 different sources of input: the presenter’s voice (vocal), visual elements (much of which was text), and the text messaging in the window below. So, perhaps the three can enrich the participant’s learning experience. I do feel that I gained from participation in that exchange. Given all this, I still ponder the changing role of the presenter and the shift in focus.