Academia, Privacy, Students, Tips

Practical student tips for online, real-time class attendance

The fall semester has either begun or is about to, for many college students. For a great many of you, this will mean taking classes remotely in an online, real-time format. Whether your institution uses Zoom, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans, BlackBoard Collaborate, or any number of other remote meeting providers, there are some practical considerations that all students should think about before rolling out of bed (or not), firing up your remote meeting software, and “going to class”.


Even though you may not be physically going to campus, entering a building, and sitting in a classroom, this is still a class and an important part of your education. So, resist the urge to treat a remote class as “less than” a traditional classroom setting. Yes, it is different. No, it is not “less than”. So, take the time and make the effort to look and appear as if you are attending a traditional class. Yes, you should wear clothes. No, I’m not kidding. I have heard stories about kids attending remote classes shirtless, or worse. Treat yourself, your peers, and your professor with a basic level of respect, courtesy, and professionalism. Dress and groom yourself as if you were attending a physical class.

Physical Environment

Your physical environment is an important consideration for online, real-time classes. Your professor may expect you to have your webcam on for some or all of your class. Also, your professor may expect you to engage in conversations during class. Obviously, you will also want to be able to hear what’s being said by your professor and fellow classmates. All of these factors make your physical environment important.

So, find a quiet, low-activity space to attend class. This goes even if you are using a headset and microphone. While you may not be distracted because of the headset, those around you may be. So, be respectful of those around you and find a quiet space to attend class. Also, be mindful of your immediate surroundings and ask if they could be distracting to other students or your professor while they’re looking at your camera feed. If so, take steps to minimize the possible distraction as a matter of basic respect and courtesy.

Make sure to position your camera so that it’s level with your face, or as close as possible. Nobody wants to look up your nose, or see the top of your head. Remember, the idea is for your camera feed look as if you’re looking the other students directly in the eye while talking, just as you would when talking in-person.

Lastly, avoid using your cell phone for class meetings if at all possible. Use your laptop, desktop, or tablet and place them on a level surface such as a desk or table. Avoid holding them on your lap.

Privacy concerns

Privacy is a fundamental human right for everyone. So, respect the privacy of your classmates and your professor, as well as those around you in your physical environment. If you see something in someone else’s camera feed that you think may possibly be sensitive, private, or embarrassing for that person, let them know. Again, a little respect goes a long way here. Alert the person quietly, perhaps by using built-in chat functionality or some other means of direct, one-on-one communication.

If you’re using your camera and mic in a public setting, be respectful of those in the vicinity. They didn’t sign up to be seen or heard in your classroom. And, your fellow students didn’t sign up to see the guy behind you at the food truck, loading up on tacos.

Recording class meetings

Laws regarding the recording of conversations differ from state to state. I am not a lawyer, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn last night. And, the issue becomes more complicated if students are physically in different states while attending class.

However, in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter what the law is for your state or any other. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something. So, my position here is a simple one – do not ever record any class session without getting the explicit permission of your professor as well as each of your classmates who you will be recording.

The only exception here is for students who have been given permission by their university’s student disability services as part of a documented accommodation process. As part of that process, formal notification is typically required to be given to the professor. The professor should, as a matter of basic respect and courtesy, inform the class that all sessions will be recorded without disclosing the particular student’s details.

Understanding class policies and procedures

Professors are still learning how to conduct online, real-time classes. So, they may not have given any thought to this. Help them out by asking things like:

  • how they want students to ask questions. Should students use their mic or should they type questions in a chatbox?
  • what are expectations regarding camera and mic usage during class? Should the camera always be on, but the mic muted until the student speaks? How does the student get permission to speak using their mic? Do they use built-in “hand raised” functionality or ask to speak in the chatbox, for example?
  • will students be expected to share their screens during class? If so, think about the appearance of your screen’s desktop through the lenses of privacy and decorum discussed above, and take steps to ensure it’s “clean” before you share your screen.


Online, real-time classes are here for the immediate future and possibly for good. Faculty and students are learning to navigate their way through this thing together. Hopefully, the tips I’ve given above will prove to be helpful for students as they start to attend classes remotely and in real-time.

Did I forget anything? Disagree with something I shared here? Drop a comment below or ping me via Twitter – @AndyGreenPhD

2 thoughts on “Practical student tips for online, real-time class attendance”

  1. Thanks Andy. That was a good summary of some of the student side etiquette, which is unsurprisingly similar to what we are using as teachers in my school district.


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