March 18, 2009
Classroom Management Issues in Online Courses: Tips on Mitigating Unwanted Behavior
Problem students can create just as many classroom management issues in the online environment as they can in a traditional classroom, perhaps more. Last week in a live online seminar titled Managing Expectations and Handling Difficult Students Online, Dr. Susan Ko, executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Maryland University College, provided strategies for mitigating unwanted behavior in online courses. Below is an excerpt of an interview conducted in advance of the seminar.
Q: In your opinion, is the majority of “difficult” behavior caused by poorly communicated expectations? Is there any special training that can help instructors with this?
Ko: Yes, managing student expectations is a big part of the picture. A well-organized class and a syllabus that clearly lays out the requirements, procedures, and other aspects of the class are necessary elements. In regard to interaction, the instructor also does much to set the tone for the class, and how well one provides feedback is also a critical factor. Training for instructors should address how to organize and manage an online class so as to reduce the odds of miscommunication, and should also help instructors recognize and manage difficulties when they arise.
Q: How can you engage with a student profoundly enough to discuss problems when you can’t meet face-to-face?
Ko: In an online class, one might actually have access to more clues and information from the student’s postings to help fill out the picture than would be the case in a face-to-face class. In most cases, the instructor should first seek to clarify the situation by personally emailing the student. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of explaining the requirements or offering additional assistance. Or a student might not be aware of the impression their postings in discussion might have made on classmates. A phone call, real-time chat or IM or even a Skype session with video cam might be used to facilitate engagement with the student.
Q: What are a couple of the most common “difficult” behaviors that online teachers face with online students?
Ko: Many of these are the same as one would encounter face-to-face, but are simply manifested in different ways online. For example, there are students who disappear from the class and then suddenly reappear, students who dominate all discussion; students who don’t hold up their end of work in group assignments, and of course, the procrastinators and those who don’t follow directions. While some problems are easily recognized, others may be more difficult to detect online.