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Nudity, Pets, Babies, and Other Adventures in Synchronous Online Learning

Philadelphia—The University of Southern California places a premium on synchronous online education. Students fire up their Webcams and participate in live virtual classes.

But those live video feeds are opening a debate about classroom decorum, pushing the university to create new guidelines for “Netiquette.”

Barking dogs, wailing babies, a naked spouse—all have made cameo appearances in USC online classes, said Jade Winn, head of library services for USC’s education and social work schools, during a talk about online education at the Educause conference here.

Ms. Winn recalled one pajama-clad student who rolled over in bed, turned on a Webcam, and tried to attend class lying on a pillow. Another distraction: students crunching bowls of cereal.

“It’s just a whole level of being in someone’s home, that you don’t take into consideration,” Ms. Winn said in an interview after her talk.

The university plans to start taking it into consideration with a new Netiquette guide. The goal is to spell out up front what USC won’t tolerate. A spouse parading naked behind a student clearly isn’t kosher—but where else do you draw the line?

“The smaller things, like the dogs in the background and the babies crying, we have two sides on that,” Ms. Winn said. “And we really are still hashing it out. I feel that you can’t muzzle the dog during class time.”

Have other Wired Campus readers dealt with this issue? What kind of Netiquette distractions have come up in your classes, synchronous or asynchronous? Share your stories in the comments below.

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