Handling Problem Students in Online Schools

Teaching for online schools is not just different from an on ground version. Not only do they differ in the use or non use of technology; they differ in terms of social interaction. Remember, you do not have physical access to the student in online teaching. This has advantages and disadvantages. One arena that is drastically changed in online teaching is the handling of disciplinary problems. One way to approach this aspect of education is to identify types of discipline problems and compare the ways they would be handled on the ground and online.

Let us consider the withdrawn student. In a traditional class, this student would probably choose a seat in the back of the room and avoid being noticed by the teacher and other students. But in an online class, there is no back of the room. The student, however, may be just as passive and avoid participation. In a traditional class, the teacher could physically approach the student to establish rapport. So, given that rapport is an important factor in getting high participation, rapport will have to be established another way in online classes. This could be done electronically. So let us consider how this could play out in an online school.

Establishing Rapport in Online Classes

One way to begin is to acknowledge the student. You are limited in using proximity to the student to gain rapport. But there are other methods. Give the student honest praise for any contributions to the class. Even if the student is silent, you can still praise the student for showing up, having a good attendance or occasionally participating. You can encourage his peers to support her and to involve her in class activities. Once you have built some rapport with these oblique methods, you could then move on to more direct methods such as having a one on one conference on email. You could also set a time and date to have a chat room conference. This would have to be scheduled because in an online class one is usually operating synchronistically.

Suppose, however, that the student is prone to use profanity and obscenity and verbally attacks other students and the instructor. He may even make physical threats. This requires immediate reaction. Make sure the student knows the rules and the consequences of violating the rules. Send him a copy of the rules in an email and ask for a response. If he ignores your statement then you will sequentially apply the rules. You can remove the offending words from his statements in class so that he does not inflame other students. If he continues, then you can call a three way conference including an administrator. If he is uncooperative, you may suspend or discharge the student with the agreed upon refund.

It is possible too that the student is deficient in computer skills and does not know how to navigate the system. This student may not be deficient in the course knowledge, but be unable to express her understanding because she does not understand how to navigate the system. The task here is to build up her confidence and to supply a tutorial system so she can catch up. Most online schools have special tutorial programs set up which will help the student who has a weak background in computer skills. Direct the student to these tutorial programs and couple this with follow up conferences with the student.

Medical Problems and Teaching Online Schools

There is also the possibility that the student is not participating in class because they are suffering from medical problems. They could have bad vision or by dyslexic, or they could be distracted and inhibited by crippling arthritis. If you discover any of these or related problems, the student could be referred to medical support. This entails some attention to confidentiality...perhaps particularly if the problem is psychiatric. There is also the legal aspect to consider. Legally, the instructor cannot ask for certain information; this must be some information that only the student can choose to reveal. So the instructor must walk a tight wire.

There is the type of student who is the wise guy, who intimidates others not with profanity or obscenities but through showing disrespect for them. They are often super aggressive and tend to dominate the discussions and to hold a virtual filibuster on a point. But the student is in the mode of ridicule, not a quest for understanding. He will often make a joke of other student's responses. Here you must intervene and privately advise the offending student. Do not do this exposed to the other students, for this will give the offending student a forum and insofar as it embarrasses him, promote more acting out. Do this over email and the thrust of the meeting should be to go over the rules and to give the student the opportunity to change his behavior or at least to make a commitment to change his behavior. Again, as in the case of using inappropriate language, it must be made clear to the student that if he does not change behavior, he may face dismissal. It is important to monitor the situation and to note changes of behavior.

Family Concerns of Teaching in an Online school

There is a kind of problem that may not be apparent just thorough analysis of what the student is doing in class. I am referring to family conflicts, stresses that take place in the student's family. Suppose that a husband does not want his wife to work toward an online degree and she is motivated to do so. She may continue to study online, but in secret. This situation can manifest in the students' performance. She may be withdrawn, sullen or fearful. It is important to identify this problem early on and to explore options to the usual pattern. Perhaps her husband can be won over. Perhaps she will leave him at some point. Or, she may decide to continue her secret path. Whatever the case, you must be willing to offer support that is judicious.

The main focus should be on the differences in disciplining in an online school and an on the ground school. In an online school, unless you are skyping you will not see the students; you will communicate verbally usually through email and sometimes online in Ask the Professor. Online schools means virtually the same as distance education degree and online degree programs. It means virtually the same as online school and online teaching degrees.

It is no less difficult to teach online for various online degree programs, but there is a much richer financial incentive to being an online adjunct instructor than there is to remaining in the physical college or university classroom. For example, a traditional adjunct faculty member is limited to teaching only for the colleges and universities within driving distance. The online college professor is not bound by these geographic limitations when seeking online faculty positions. Distance education technology means that all of the academic work for the online college courses contained in an accredited online bachelor degree program or an accredited online master's degree program is on the Internet. An online college teacher only needs to master the use of an inexpensive laptop computer to acquire a full time online teaching schedule.