Virtual Academic Center Etiquette 101: How to Avoid Virtual Faux Pas

Understanding the nuances of virtual etiquette can be difficult for newcomers, so please allow me, a graduate from the May 2011 cohort, to guide you. There are a few rules by which to abide, so come along and let’s explore the basics of Virtual Academic Center Etiquette.

Let me see your face
One of the benefits of the Virtual Academic Center is that we can see each other face to face in class unlike in a physical classroom where we stare at the back of a person’s head. So, let me see your face! For best viewing, center your camera to your face and upper body. It’s a bit awkward to talk to a pair of nostrils and eyes on the bottom third of the screen with the ceiling fan in the background taking up the rest.

Also, be aware of the lighting. If at all possible, have a desk light that highlights what we see on screen, typically your upper body. If you are attending class near a sunny window that makes it impossible to see you clearly, we’re stuck looking at a distorted white glare and a silhouette of a body and head.

No robes, please!
So you got the camera framing and complementary lighting down. Well done! But … what are you wearing? Is that … a robe?

Another benefit of obtaining your master’s degree online is the convenience of attending live classes right from your own home. While we are in our private space and comfort zone, please be conscious of how you are representing yourself as a student. Wear appropriate clothing.

Background checks
Camera? Check. Lighting? Check. Clothing? Check. All done … right? Don’t forget to conduct a background check. Now, don’t get me wrong: Who doesn’t like to see a cute puppy or kitty roaming around behind you on screen? But that may be as much as we can handle without getting too distracted.

So be aware of what’s going on behind you. Are you sharing a room with someone? Are they grooming and getting ready to head out for the day? Are they fresh out of the shower and passing through?! Conduct a background check before you log into class as a courtesy to your classmates (and maybe even your roommate).

Remember to mute … and, yes, we know you were on mute
All right, you have the visual stuff down, so let’s get ready to participate in the lecture. Headset in, phone on mute, time to listen and engage in some world-class social work education. Class is going along smoothly, and a student indicates he wants to make a comment. We all stare at him and see lips moving but don’t hear a thing. If this is you, once you take yourself off mute, just begin making your original point. No need to let the class know, “Oh, sorry, I was on mute!”

And when you are done talking, please make sure you put yourself back on mute. Quite frankly, no one wants to hear you breathing into your microphone or your dogs barking in the other room. These distractions take away from the minimal time we have in class, and it surely makes it harder to decipher what the speaker is saying.


Give yourself a round of applause: You’ve made it through Virtual Academic Center Etiquette 101! Perhaps you identified yourself in one of the situations above or have seen a classmate commit one of these virtual faux pas. It’s not too late to rehabilitate and engage in proper form.

This article was written by Steven Su, a recent graduate of the MSW@USC with a Mental Health concentration. Steven is an avid traveler of the world, Disney park enthusiast, and occasional half-marathon runner.