Classroom Management Tips for Online Courses: Dealing with Difficult Students

Raise your hand if you’ve come across these students in your online course.

The Know-it-all who answers questions asked of the instructor so as to contradict him/her rather than add perspective to the discussion.

The Mutineer who complains openly to classmates about what’s wrong with the class, and encourages others to do the same.

The Controller who wants all the assignments in advance, and has to have the first and last word on everything.

The Staller who delays logging into the course, and always has an excuse for not getting things done in the same timeframe as other students.

The Must-Have-an-A student who early on in the class declares that she must get an A in the class or her life will be ruined.

The Noisy student who begins new topic threads even though he is continuing the same topic, or rambles endlessly about tangentially related topics.

The Quiet student who is current with her assignments, but rarely participates in online discussions and seems to prefer to “learn by lurking.”

In the online seminar, Managing Expectations and Handing Difficult Students Online, Dr. Susan Ko, executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), provided tips on how to handle these types of students, and the unique challenges they can create in the online learning environment.

Like the old cliché that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound a cure, one of the best ways to prevent problems from taking root in your class is by communicating expectations early and often.

“Managing student expectations is important in any class but even more so for online and blended courses where it’s easy for students to feel lost,” says Ko. “Even well structured, academically rigorous online classes can have diminished effectiveness due to a lack of clear expectations.”

Ko presented the following strategies for keeping online students focused and on task:

  • Set expectations from the very first communication.
  • Reinforce due dates, schedules and timelines for achievement of objectives.
  • Post materials and conduct activities on a pre-set schedule.
  • Allow students to keep track of their own progress.
  • Be organized – students take cues from their instructor.