What makes a good online course?

January 20, 2021

Part 6: Safety and Respect


The final installment of What Makes a Good Online Course discusses issues around respect. Unlike parts 1–5, where the instructor is responsible for implementing certain elements in their online course, safety and respect must be actively practiced by all participants. These elements can’t necessarily be “designed” into the course; they must be honored and upheld by both instructors and students.

We thrive in situations and relationships where we feel safe and respected. In an online course, feeling safe includes everything from the freedom to express our views to the opportunity to learn without fear of bullying or discrimination. While bullying and discrimination are not common in college-level online courses, it is still important to understand how you, your classmates, and your instructor can help create a respectful online classroom.

How can you and your instructor build a respectful classroom environment?

An online learning environment consists of three main parties: you, your classmates, and your instructor. Each party is responsible for building and maintaining a positive environment by practicing some of the basic behaviors listed below.


  • Your instructor should engage with you as they would face-to-face—in other words, as an individual, not a number. Translated to an online course, this means that your instructor should refer to you by your name and communicate with you as respectfully and personably as they would if you were standing in front of them.
  • You should offer your instructor the same courtesy. Refer to them by their preferred title. Some instructors may ask you to call them by their first name, but others may want you to address them as Mr., Miss., Dr., Instructor, or Professor. Whatever you do, don’t bestow a casual nickname on them. It’s doubtful that they will appreciate it.


  • Don’t attack the views of others. If you disagree with another student’s point of view, make sure that you approach the conversation with research, data, or other factual information that supports your position. Unlike social media, each of the Alamo Colleges strongly enforces their Student Code of Conduct. Name-calling and other bully behaviors will result in disciplinary action.
  • It’s important to remember that college invites free thought, discourse, disagreement, and constructive debate. You may not agree with every viewpoint or idea presented to you, but that does not mean the learning environment is disrespectful or unsafe. Understanding the difference between a thoughtful, fact-based idea and a hurtful personal opinion is part of being a college student and is a bedrock foundation in the free exchange of ideas.
  • That being said, if a classmate responds to your post or work in an abusive manner, your instructor should step in. It is their responsibility to facilitate discussions and set appropriate boundaries.

Academic Honesty

  • Not only can cheating or plagiarizing get you or a classmate in serious trouble, but it also takes away from the respectful environment that everyone else is trying to build. By plagiarizing, you disrespect the original author by taking credit for their work; by cheating on an exam, you are disrespecting your classmates who have studied hard. Don’t do it! The liability to your academic career and the negativity it creates is not worth the risk.
  • Apps and group texting makes cheating easier than ever. If a classmate tries to invite you or others to share answers via app or text, opt out immediately. It is important to take swift action on your own behalf to avoid actual cheating or even the appearance of cheating.

What if a situation gets out of hand?

Typically, your instructor will include information in the course syllabus about the behavior they expect from their students. While there are no wide-spread reports of bullying in college-level online courses, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, especially if discussions between students bring up strong emotions and opinions. As mentioned before, all students are subject to the Code of Conduct at their respective colleges. Do not be afraid to seek assistance from your instructor and administrators for guidance and procedures on how to handle someone who is not respecting your boundaries.

Hopefully, this series about quality online course design has helped you recognize the hallmarks of a great online course. We hope you have a greater appreciation regarding the thought and care that your instructor puts into their online course. If you are ready to start your online program, don’t hesitate to contact one of our Enrollment Coaches, who can help you get started on your online learning journey!

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Enrollment Coaches are here to help you get started with the application process and to guide you through registration for fully online courses this upcoming semester. We can also connect you to an advisor, as well as refer you to services available to online students.

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AlamoONLINE represents the range of opportunities for students pursuing degrees, certificates, or other offerings delivered 100% online from Northeast Lakeview College, Northwest Vista College, Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, and St. Philip’s College.

At our Alamo Colleges, a 100% online degree, certificate, other offering, or Transfer Advising Guide (TAG) has all courses offered fully online and does not require students to come on campus or to an external site except for required proctored exams or to participate in a clinical, internship, cooperative education, or practicum site.