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The Digital Student: A manifesto for better online learning

A manifesto for better online learning

This guide will introduce you to important principles for safe and inclusive online learning.

Be authentic

You should always use your full name when taking part in any online discussions or activities for your course. Most systems will automatically use the name as reflected on your student record.  If you prefer to be known as something else, please let people know. Likewise, if somebody tells you they prefer to be called something else during the video call, please respect this. If using Microsoft Teams ensure you are signed in before accessing meetings – lecturers may not admit people trying to access as guests.

You should only use a photo of you or selfie for any profile pictures. Never use a group photo, a cartoon or photograph of anyone else. If you are not comfortable using a picture of yourself, don’t use a profile picture at all. Similarly, if you are connecting your webcam make sure it is facing you. 


Respect diversity

The University community is proudly diverse. We have staff and students of many nationalities, religions and cultures. You should always be respectful and inclusive of others.

Always use language precisely if tackling sensitive topics. This can be challenging, but reading ahead can help you learn how to phrase things inclusively. If you get things wrong, learn from the experience and apologise if necessary.


Communicate clearly

Whether you are typing or speaking, always use full sentences and proper English. Avoid typing in note-form, shorthand or text speak. Informal language can be difficult for others to follow and can make your contributions inaccessible.

You should also put accessibility at the heart of everything you do. Make sure any links you send are hyperlinked and not just a pasted URL (e.g. You should take care to speak clearly to help aid the automated subtitling/captioning in Microsoft Teams too.

If you are in a busy environment, make sure to put yourself on mute to avoid distracting background noise. Likewise, some computer audio setups can cause an echo/feedback. If there is feedback in a meeting, make sure to mute yourself (alongside everyone else) to reduce the problem. 


Think of your environment

You should always try to attend classes in a private environment. If you must share a workspace, make sure you use headphones and not speakers. If this is not possible, make sure you explain this to other people in your online class. This ensures the online classroom remains a private environment for everyone participating.

You should consider the privacy of the space you are working from. This does not just impact you, but everyone else connected to your class. If you are not in a private space, you should warn the others so they can choose what they share based on that. You should also consider your own privacy and who else may be around you. If you are concerned about privacy, it may be more appropriate to type your contributions. 


Be professional

Just because you may not be in a classroom doesn’t mean you should act like it. You should dress appropriately for classes, especially when you are using your webcams.

Your focus should be whatever class you are participating in. It is rude to undertake other activities or use your mobile phone or other electronic devices for non-learning purposes in any class. These distractions also damage your own learning too. Make sure you turn off any televisions, radios or games and put your phone on silent if you are not using it for learning (using your phone for notes or a Mentimeter quiz is fine).

If you experience an unexpected interruption that requires your urgent attention, make sure to turn off your camera and mute yourself. This may impact your learning, but it limits how you may distract others.

Emojis, stickers and GIFs can be a great way to lighten communication, but always consider if they are appropriate for whatever you are discussing. You should also consider how they may be interpreted (or misinterpreted) by others, especially emoji which often have multiple meanings. If you choose to use emojis, make sure you know what they mean. The Emojipedia lists all emoji and their descriptions which reflect how they would be described to a visually impaired person. 



Just because a class is online, it doesn’t mean you can’t get involved. The University has a range of online tools like Microsoft Teams, Canvas, Mentimeter and Big Blue Button, all of which provide a dynamic online experience. These tools allow you to participate, interact, get involved and ask questions. Your university learning experience will be richer if you participate.

Not all of your learning will take place in live classes. You can still ask questions and participate in debates via Teams or Canvas discussions. If you are in a busy class, you can use the raise your hand feature in Teams to signal the lecturer you want to speak. Make sure you read and take interest in any posts. You should be ready to ask questions too. This can be as simple as asking others to unpick or explain their points. Likewise, you should be ready to answer questions about your contributions.


Be present

An important part of online learning is being present. This means you should engage in your learning within an appropriate environment – no TV, no social media, no radio. Your online classes need and deserve your full attention. If your environment is an issue, you can book a seat in the Brynmor Jones Library where you can benefit from our super-fast Wi-Fi. Make sure to bring your own USB headphones.

Another important way you can be present is to use your webcam. This is a great way to connect with other people, and it can help motivate you in paying attention. Lectures are used to teaching a room full of faces and your webcam can help facilitate this. You should also try to avoid leaving your device while a class is in progress. Just like a normal lecture, grab a drink beforehand – not in the middle of a class.

While webcams are great for communication, no student or member of staff should be forced to use their webcam.


Respectful debate

Disagreement is not only healthy but is expected as part of academic studies. You should be respectful when taking part in any online discussion or debate, allowing others to be heard. You are allowed to disagree, but you must do so politely and respectfully.  

For academic debates, you should never make personal comments about others, instead, focus on evidence and counterarguments. You should support any points you wish to make with evidence. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a reference but can be a hyperlink to the relevant resource. We have a SkillsGuide on Critical writing that you may find helpful.


Collective responsibility

When working online, there will be times when you are working with other students in small groups. This may be a break-out room or a small project group for an assignment. Just because a member of staff is not there, you should still maintain the standards outlined on this page and hold each other to account. If someone is behaving inappropriately or being discriminative, address their behaviour with them if you feel comfortable. If you are concerned or feel unable to address this with them, speak to the relevant member of staff. Bullying, harassment and offensive language have no place in higher education.


One student, one screen

You can only fully participate if you use your own device. Even if other students in a module are within your flat or social bubble, you should each still join classes on your own device – do not share. With your own device, you are able to contribute to activities in a way that is not possible if you share with another student. Sharing devices to attend a class can also lead to side conversations and other inappropriate behaviour. Everything you do in Canvas and Microsoft Teams is attributed to you, and only you should be using these tools when logged in.

If you are in a situation where you need to share a device inform the tutor in advance. You should take care to participate respectfully, avoiding local conversations that do not involve the whole class. 


Share carefully

If you are sharing your screen, make sure to close emails, social media and any other private and personal content. You don’t want to accidentally broadcast something to your classmates.

Share files via Box, OneDrive or Microsoft Teams – not via email. Where possible, share smaller or compressed files so those who have poor internet connections can still participate.


Inclusivity and accessibility