Are your online students civil? What does it mean to be civil in an online course? According to Galbraith and Jones (2010), incivility in online courses includes such things as:
- Students challenging professor authority.
- Students demanding special treatment from professors.
- Students exhibiting an “I paid for this” attitude.
- Students being outright hostile to other students and to the professor.
Although “incivility” is very much in the eye of the beholder, in IDT we frequently hear from professors who have concerns about these behaviors in online classes.
Are online classes “worse” in this respect than face-to-face ones? It’s hard to say, in part because the standards of behavior are likely different in each course delivery. For example, such things as talking in class or leaving early are very disruptive in the face-to-face environment, but they are not evident in online courses. According to Linda Nilson writing in Teaching at its Best (2003), the academic world has seen a general increase in incivility over the last two decades. If we accept her argument, it’s no surprise that online courses, which came of age in the same time period, might well be characterized by a higher baseline of incivility.
What can you do to combat uncivil behavior in your online courses? Galbraith and Jones (2010) suggest the following practical moves:
- Make your standards very clear by listing them in your syllabus. IDT provides standard “netiquette” language for you to use if you would like.
- Explain why your standards are what they are. Although this may seem like an unnecessary step, the reality is the online course environment is so new that basic standards of behavior are not always obvious or agreed upon.
- Stay calm and respond to the behavior immediately and in line with your stated policies.
- Document the behavior and your response.
Teaching online can be a very rewarding experience, but especially if you are new to the environment it’s important to keep in mind that the behavioral standard in the more general “online world” is vastly different from the standard in face-to-face classroom. While it may seem unfair, your experience will be better if you provide clear behavioral guidance to your students and you enforce your own policies swiftly and clearly.