I’m Martha Schwer, an online teaching and learning mentor at Madison College. This presentation was developed by Martha Schwer and Jennifer Lewis.
The online environment itself can trigger behavior problems online for many students. Learners don’t have to look you in the eye in many online courses. I’ve seen first generation online courses at Madison College where students barely know what the teacher looks like, and teachers don’t recognize even the names of their students because of low-interaction.It’s Easier to choose inappropriate behaviors when alone at a computer, particularly if you feel distant from the course, instructor, or other students.Intoxication at the keyboard is a possibility; students show up drunk at the keyboard far more often than they show up drunk in a classroom.Students often fail to ask questions when they come up because it’s not as easy as blurting it out in a classroom. So they avoid asking questions that would help them make better choices because they haven’t managed their time well and don’t want to admit the problems they are causing themselves.Invisible difficulties can also make misbehavior more likely online. Keep in mind that you may not be aware that a student is not a native English speaker or is dyslexic, as you often can instantly perceive in a traditional classroom.Managing these learner issues can be more difficult in the online learning environment. Behavioral issues can destroy a course environment if not managed. If offending behavior is left unchecked, it can cause a deterioration of discussions and team projects and lead learners to drop out. In addition, behavioral issues may be a result of learning problems, which must be recognized and managed to help learners overcome issues and persist.
Palloff and Pratt (2005) recommend that you review netiquette guidelines and have learners discuss and agree to these rules at the beginning of a course to ensure that learners understand the expectations and guidelines and agree to them. Consider the following rules adapted from Virginia Shea (1994).Remember that there is a person behind the written posts who has feelings and can be hurt by what and how you interact. It is easier to say something online when you do not have to look the person in the eye. Shea recommends that you never post anything that you would not say to the person face-to-face. In addition, you should adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life, which includes acting ethically and following rules and regulations. If you would not steal in real life, you should not steal online by taking other people’s ideas and using them as your own. Knowing where you are in cyberspace is important because depending on the environment, there may be different rules of netiquette. Respecting other people’s time and bandwidth relates to taking the time to understand the requirements of discussion and do the preparatory work prior to responding to discussion questions. It also includes not wasting people’s time by asking questions that are not relevant to the discussion or questions whose answers can readily be found with a little effort. It also encourages staying away from disagreements that lead to personal attacks. “Make yourself look good online” relates to taking time to check your spelling and grammar, preparing for discussions prior to engaging in them, and not flaming. By sharing expert knowledge, you offer help to learners who have questions and broaden the perspective of your course.Helping keep flame wars under control means you do not post flames and do not respond to flames; you keep discussions professional. When you respect other people’s privacy you do not read other people’s private e-mail. Finally, be forgiving of other people’s mistakes—be patient with and have compassion for all learners in the course. These are excellent rules for engaging in the online environment.
How you design your online course can have a significant impact on the magnitude of behavior problems you have to deal with in your class. Consider the learning theory your course uses carefully. Quick choices often result in poor results. Easy choices can often result in an excessively time-consuming management mess. You may have one learning theory for the online classroom and another for your face-to-face classroom. This makes sense, because the online classroom serves a different kind of learner than the f2f learner.Although we often think of online teaching as flexible, in fact it is far less easy to change a course online than it is face-to-face. Making good choices now, and anticipating the attitudes and responses you often see from your students, is vital.
If you get a nasty email from a student, do not respond to an argument or angry email via email. Aim to resolve, not argue, on the phone or in person. Allow 24 hours to lapse before talking to the student, so everyone can calm down. Regardless of the type of problem that you have with learners in the learning activities, it is critical that you monitor discussions to ensure that issues are being addressed and learners are being respectful to one another. If you address issues with grammar and spelling, off-topic posts, and other issues relating to the quality of individual learner posts, you will find fewer occurrences of flaming. You also need to monitor all of the interactions that go on between learners to ensure that flaming is not occurring and to catch it as soon as possible in order to deescalate the situation.I recommend that as soon as you find language from a learner that is unacceptable, immediately remove the post and send a communication to the learner You can resolve an issue faster by setting up a time to talk with the learner by telephone to better understand the learner’s situation and answer any questions he or she may have. In addition, try to focus on solutions and give learners ways to manage situations that arise, so they do not post messages in the heat of the moment.Many flames result from situations in which learners feel that another learner is not working as hard or is not at the same level as they are, and they feel that the situations need to be called out because they do not see the instructor taking action. Do not argue with the learner. Stick to the policies within your institution and the expectations that you have set for your course.Keep your tone in any e-mail dealing with misbehavior neutral. When reporting a problem to the student, do not use language that demonstrates a personal feeling about the issue, such as I am sad or disappointed, but stick to the facts. Sometimes I will say I’m confused, particularly if the facts are unclear. Be sure to include information regarding the Madison College code of conduct in the syllabus, as well as consequences for any violations. Code of conduct violations generally relate to learners whose interactions with the instructor or other learners contain verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion, and other conduct that makes other learners uncomfortable and feel unsafe. Often a learner will challenge your authority, so it is important to remain in control and assertive instead of defensive or argumentative. Address such learners in a respectful way and allow them to express their feelings and views. By acknowledging their views and feelings, you can deflate the situation and work toward a resolution. Allow learners to help solve the issue in order to help them feel not only a part of the problem, but also a part of the solution.
Plagiarism can occur in discussions and collaborative work areas like blogs and wikis. The most common plagiarism is when learners post a response that is from other learners in the course. They may take another learner’s post to the discussion question, change a couple of words, and post it as their own. Learners can be very clever at how they plagiarize other learners’ ideas. They will take several ideas from a number of different learners in the course to compose their response to the discussion so it will not be recognized as plagiarism.Sometimes, the learner whose ideas have been taken will report the misconduct to the instructor, but most of the time the learner whose ideas have been taken is not aware of the situation. Closely monitor discussions and observe any similarities in learners’ posts to ensure learners are not copying from one another. Also look for language that is more sophisticated than the learner to uncover plagiarism of other sources. When the situation arises, immediately notify the offending learner and let him or her know that it is a violation of the academic honesty code. If the offending learner has taken another learner’s ideas, also cite the code of conduct. I recommend that you remove all plagiarized posts and notify the learner that it has been removed. In your communication with the learner inform him or her that you have removed the post and discuss whether you will give the learner an opportunity to repost. If other learners have posted to the learner’s discussion post, you will have to notify the individual learners that their response to the learner has been removed. If you grade interactions between learners, I recommend that you give the nonoffending learners credit for their interactions.In deciding which student is copying, make sure you view the posting time carefully to determine who posted first. Blackboard sometimes displays the order from top to bottom; but in some tools, it’s bottom to top.
You may also have to manage learner motivation issues that result in behavioral issues. Let’s look at a number of these issues in more detail.Lone Eagle learners lack appreciation (Bender & Dittmar, 2006). They barely meet assignment requirements, turn in assignments late, do not integrate instructor feedback, and feel their educational experience is a waste of time.The best recommendation I can give for managing Lone Eagle or arrogant learners is to call them on the phone and give them an opportunity to share their thoughts. Ask them how you can help make their time in the course satisfying. Be very specific about their need to meet the expectations and requirements for the course but be willing to negotiate areas that will not have an impact on the course outcomes or be unfair to other learners.The developmental learner lacks attention (Bender& Dittmar, 2006). These learners do not follow directions and details for completing assignments and skip reading required resources. Their assignments are weak and they fail to correct grammar and spelling errors in their papers. Many times learners who lack attention to details indicate a learner with poor academic skills. Learners who have strong thinking skills but are careless in their work for other reasons can be managed by providing feedback on the needs for a standard of work. Grading rubrics can be used to communicate the standards to learners, and reduced scores can motivate them to pay more attention to details to improve their grade. You may also want to contact learners prior to assignment deadlines to review the grading rubrics to ensure their work meets the requirements of the assignment.
The low expectationlearner lacks devotion (Bender & Dittmar, 2006). These learners post to discussions and assignments at the 11th hour, and the result is a rushed product.Managing low expectation learners is critical because it can cause you to have to spend additional time grading work submitted by learners after the due date. It is important to set guidelines for late submissions at the beginning of the course and follow through on point deductions in order to help this type of learner overcome the behavior. In addition, a low-expectaton learner may be a sign of motivation issues, so take the time to determine the issue and provide encouragement to support the learner and help them engage in activities in a timely manner. The disorganized learner lacks direction (Bender & Dittmar, 2006). These learners do not know where to begin and may be considered field dependent in that they are not sure how to break down the big picture into manageable chunks of work. These learners suffer from a lack of direction, resulting in poor time management and poorly completed work that is submitted late or not at all.Course road maps, unit overviews, unit checklists, and graphic organizers are a few of the scaffolding tools you can use to support disjointed learners. Having these supports available in the course can help them avoid difficulties and can be used to work with learners one-on-one to overcome problems with course activities.
The passive learner lacks accountability (Bender & Dittmar, 2006).They are unable to meet responsibilities and may resort to complaining. They show an external locus of control by blaming others for their inabilities. Many of the strategies used to help a disorganized learner can help the passive learner, too.The passive learner who lacks accountability may actually be covering up learning problems. Consider helping them understand they can control their learning by the effort they put into the activities.The competitive learner lacks patience (Bender & Dittmar, 2006).These learners perform well but their independent cognitive style makes them want to take control of their learning, sometimes to the point of not following processes and procedures for the course.The competitive learner is the advanced learner who is self-directed. When overachievers become dissatisfied with the course, they can become impatient and exhibit a behavioral issue. When interacting with such learners, recognize their achievements and ask them what they need to have a satisfying learning experience. It is important to make sure they understand that all learners have to demonstrate the outcomes of the course, so there are not opportunities to skip activities they find boring or mundane. In addition, it is important that the alternatives for overachievers are fair and help them find ways to engage in activities at a higher level. Occasionally, I get a learner who wants to be a co-instructor of the course. The best way to deal with a learner who would like to take on the role of co-instructor is let him or her know how much you appreciate the ideas and leave it at that. Do not indicate that you will or will not use the advice, so the learner does not become offended by being turned down by the offer to help. The Passive Aggressive (or sometimes just plain aggressive) learner often strikes out at other students or the instructor. One firm rule that I have is that offensive language or ranting is not tolerated and I will remove any posts in which this occurs. I communicate with the learner directly and privately, letting him know that the post has been removed and the reason for removing it. In addition, I cite the learner code of conduct to support my decision. The best policy is to keep your statements neutral (without personal statements), short, and to the point. For sarcastic comments, ignoring them is acceptable unless the sarcasm is directed at another student. Then, the instructor should intervene.
The one-style learner lacks flexibility (Bender & Dittmar, 2006). When you provide feedback to one-style learners, they refuse to consider your feedback. Often, they don’t feel any need to even review your feedback.They will not make necessary changes to meet the requirements of an assignment or course activity.Stubborn learners may exhibit some of the same behaviors as the previous behaviors described; however, no matter what you do, they remain uncooperative. The best way to manage one-style learners is to listen to them, ask them for ways to resolve the issue, evaluate their solution, and make a final decision on the resolution. The key to managing a this style is once the resolution has been determined, if the learner is not happy with it, you need to be firm and exhibit your authority to ensure the learner understands your expectations.The low-confidencelearner are not prepared for online learning and are dependent on the instructor to lead them through the course activities. You may recognize this learner by communications that state, “I don’t know what to do.” These learners also tend not to take advantage of additional resources you provide them to support building their skills.Successes raise efficacy, whereas failures lower them. Early in the course, develop activities that provide opportunities for learners to be successful. For a learner who is unfamiliar with the content area, the amount of content can be overwhelming and create anxiety, so consider techniques to support learners and maximize success to increase self-confidence. This can be done using templates, study worksheets, examples, and clear instructions to increase the likelihood of the learner succeeding in completing the course activities. Verbal persuasion by the instructor and peers can also have a positive influence on self-confidence.
The Low-interest learner lacks enthusiasm (Bender & Dittmar, 2006).These learners turn in work on time and meet expectations; however, they are not involved in the course outside of meeting the requirements.This is a specific type of motivation issue because the lack of enthusiasm doesn’t impact their grades, but ultimately may lead to learners becoming bored with the course and eventually dropping out. The key to motivating learners is to help them understand how the course activities will help them build their thinking skills and discuss the importance of creating knowledge as part of a community of inquiry. They may always have an external locus of control and only care about the grade, so helping them see how building skills and knowledge through interaction with peers in the course activities can affect them personally is critical. Often, the unmotivated learner gets interested in the class when group work begins, and can be motivated through mobile learning, such as texting. Short, extremely frequent communication can help the learner re-adjust her expectations.The unskilled learner lacks the pre-requisites (Bender & Dittmar, 2006), both in terms of skills from past classes and general study skills. These learners do not possess the necessary academic skills to be successful in any learning environment, but they especially have difficulties in the online learning environment, where learners must have good reading and writing skills, no matter the subject.It is very important to manage unskilled learners because their behavior can affect you and other learners in the course. You will need to continuously monitor unskilled learners and provide just-in-time feedback to help them overcome difficulties as they engage in learning activities. It is also important to consider your grading and be honest with unskilled learners about their performance. It is not unheard of to be direct with unskilled learners and ask if the technology is getting in the way of learning. If it is, be honest about the chances for completing the course early, to minimize the financial problems dropping a class can cause.Often, unskilled learners have diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disabilities. Make sure you work with that students’ learning disability resource counselor; consult with that person often. The counselor can arrange meetings with you and the student, so the student can work through their difficulties. The counselor can connect students with resources they may be unaware of, such as audio-recording of textbooks and learning tutors.SummaryBehavioral problems that are a result of unmet expectations can lead to low motivation and may result in the learner dropping out of the course. Being able to identify the root cause of the issue, can help you work with learners to overcome the issue in order to successfully complete your course.
Managing OnlineLearner Behavior in theOnline ClassroomMartha SchwerJennifer LewisMadison Area Technical CollegePreparing to Teach Online
What’s the Relationship of Online Environmentand Misbehavior?2MisbehaviorOnlineFeeling distant fromthe instructor,course, and otherstudents makes ithard to considerothers or imaginetheir viewpoints.Non-demandingonline courses meanlow emotionalinvestment in thecourse; invitescheating.Unclear instructorexpectations onlinecan lead tounintentionalviolation of “norms”in teacher’s (or otherstudents’) head.Drinking, tiredness,multi-tasking, ormobile difficulty canresult in poorjudgment.Impatience withemail responsetime can short-circuit asking crucialquestions andcrucial conversationsprior to mis-behavior.MotivationProblems related tolearner’s pastexperiences or apsychiatric orlearning disability.
What Expectations and Guidelines for Interacting inthe Online Environment are Helpful?(adapted from Shea, 1994)Netiquette guides can be very long, and uninspiring to read. Ishorten them to the following list, which I use with students:1. In all of your interactions, remember that there is a person behindthe written post.2. Never post anything that you would not say to the person face-to-face.3. Adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow inreal life (in what you say and don’t say).4. Respect other people’s time and bandwidth.5. Make yourself look good online.6. Share your knowledge; offer to help to learners who havequestions.7. Keep your emotions under control by not posting flames and notresponding to flames.8. Keep discussions professional and avoid vulgar language.9. Forgive other learners’ mistakes and be patient andcompassionate of all learners in the course.3
What are Some General Strategiesfor Managing Behavior Problems?O High instructor multimedia use, like optionalsynchronous sessions.O Ask students to work with each other. Movethem from participation in a course into co-operation in others’ goals (or true collaboration, ifpossible!).O Good online course design can reduce badbehavior. Don’t make your course easy, just toget students through it. Make students wrestlewith content, not technology. Consider aseparate learning theory for your online coursesfrom your f2f approach.O To suppress plagiarism or cheating, includeGroup Work in course design; use SafeAssign todetect plagiarism; use large question pools andrandom blocks for exams.4
How Can I Manage Bad Behavior Events inthe Online Classroom?5MonitordiscussionsOFTEN to ensureissues are beingaddressed andstudents arerespectful of oneanother.Address issueswith spelling andgrammar, off-topicposts, and otherindividual poorperformanceissues privately.If relevant,Include a link tothe code ofconduct policy inthe syllabus; referstudents to it.Remove flamesand publicmisbehaviors;communicate withstudent their posthas beenremoved andwhy.Resolve problemsusingsynchronouscommunication.Set up a time totalk via telephone,face-to-face, etc.;don’t agree toresolve it throughemail.Be firm and clearwith learners whochallenge yourauthority;say exactly whatyou’ll do and do it.Don’t threaten apenalty you’re notprepared to do.
How Do I Handle Plagiarism Inthe Online Classroom?After investigation, send a final report to the involved student and cc Keith Corneille.If you grade interactions between learners, I recommend that you give the non-offendinglearners credit for their interactions (unless a pattern appears).If other learners have posted to the copied post, you will have to notify the innocentlearners that their response has been removed, but they’ll still get creditRemove all plagiarized posts and notify the learner that it has been removed.Immediately notify the offending learner and let him or her know that it is a violation ofthe academic integrity code.Act swiftly when learners take other learners’ ideas as their own without credit.6
How Can I Manage Motivation IssuesBased On Perception Problems?(Bender & Dittmar, 2006)• Lacks appreciation• Does not integrate instructor feedback; resists or skips peerinteraction opportunities• Feels educational experience is a waste of time• Performance can deteriorate to barely meet assignmentrequirements, turns in assignments lateLone EagleLearner• Lacks attention• Does not follow directions and details for completingassignments• Skips reading required resources• Fails to correct grammar and spelling errors in papers• Often avoiding diagnosed learning disability (or did not readuntil adulthood).DevelopmentalLearner7
How Can I Manage DependentLearners Online?(Bender & Dittmar, 2006)• Lacks devotion• Posts assignments at the 11th hour, delivers hasty work.• Expects little work from the course; ignores the timerequired because of low-quality past experiences.• Expects grade inflation based on past experience.• May slide from doing the minimum to being unable tocomplete the courseLowExpectationLearner• Lacks direction and college study skills• Does not know where to begin• Entirely dependent on instructor scheduling andin-class “absorption” of content.• Poor time management skills• Latent or Hidden Learning disabilities commonDisorganizedLearner8
How Can I Manage Motivation IssuesRelated to Self-Management and Control?(Bender & Dittmar, 2006)• Lacks accountability• Unable to meet responsibilities and resorts to complaining• Shows an external locus of control by blaming everything andeveryone for their inabilities• Reacts emotionally to ideas for self-management• Can’t separate course content from the people involvedPassiveLearner• Lacks patience with less competent learners and mistakes.• Performs well, but independent style makes them want to takecontrol inappropriately• Does not follow processes and procedures for the course• Avoids emotion or compassion; sees it as inappropriateCompetitiveLearner• Uses sarcasm or irony whenever they are uncomfortable• Tries to intimidate or control another learner or sometimes eventhe instructor.• Uses language in a “rant” rather than a discussion, andsometimes uses offensive language to communicate ideas.Passive-AggressiveLearner9
How Can I Manage Issues Related toSelf-Image in an Online Classroom?• Lacks cognitive flexibility or “openness.”• Refuses to read/ consider your feedback• Focuses on excuses why they behaved asthey did, rather than meet the requirementsof an assignment or course activity.One-StyleLearner• Is not prepared for online learning and isdependent on the instructor to lead them throughthe course activities• May state, “I don’t know what to do”• Tends not to take advantage of additionalresources you provide• Gravitates to other low-performing learners ratherthan high-confidence learners.Low-ConfidenceLearner
Motivation Issues Related toPlacement and Preparation(Bender & Dittmar, 2006)• Lacks enthusiasm for course content or otherstudents.• Turns in work on time and meets expectations• Does not ask questions related to course content.• Is not involved in the course outside of meeting therequirementsLow-InterestLearner• Lacks pre-requisites• Does not possess the necessary academic skills to besuccessful in any learning environment• Especially has difficulties in the online learningenvironment, where learners need good reading andwriting skillsUnskilledLearner11
ReferencesBender, S. L., & Dittmar, E. (2006, August). Dealing with difficultonline learners. International Journal of InstructionalTechnology and Distance Learning, 3(7), 55-59.Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. N. (2005). Discussion as a way ofteaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learningtogether in community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Shea, V. (1994). Netiquette. San Francisco: Albion Books.Stavredes, T. (2012) Motivation Online. Presentation at SLOAN-Cin Orlando, Florida.12