Written by Garret Brand, Professor, Business Department – Online civility is a big issue! Rude e-mails are common. Part of it can be that the student is unaware of their tone, but there can also be defensiveness or a sense of entitlement (e.g. why did you take away my points?).
Some suggestions for:
- Angry, Aggressive and Challenging Students*
- Engage the student privately and learn about them.
- Show that you are willing to listen and be clear and rational in your response.
- Responding to E-mails**
- Show appreciation for the question and be polite. You don’t have to put up with abusive language, but you can attempt to re-direct the conversation.
- Be neutral and non-judgmental. I recall publicly correcting student for their spelling (it was horrible) and it turned out they got the error from my previous post.
- Students With Behavioral Issues***
- Achieve a balance between asserting your authority and overreacting to student outbursts/provocation. I rarely say that I’m in charge, but I have reminded students that I’m responsible for enforcing course/college policies and that I too deserve civility.
- Avoid the smiley. If you have a student who is angry about outside issues, feels they are justified about their outrage, or considers it sport to provoke, attempts to be light often don’t work. Be respectful, clear and firm.
- Some advice from experienced online faculty:
- Be clear about (and consistently apply) course policies.
- Don’t let them see you sweat. Avoid telling them it’s your first time teaching online.
- Seek to clarify a complaint. A number of times, I’ve read things into a student’s e-mail. I’ve learned to ask if I’ve understood.
In the end, continue to seek input from your peers and try to keep things in perspective. In most cases, consistent and timely responses will calm the storm. Document EVERYTHING and seek support from leadership. Don’t forget that there are resources to help with behavioral issues (see links below).
* McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 11th Edition, College Teaching Series
** Teaching Online, Draves, LERN
*** Teaching Online, A Practical Guide, Ko and Rossen