Challenging to Champion: Working with Difficult Online Students

student frustrated with computer
Online Learning
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Author Shawn Orr, Adrian College

I’ve had the privilege of teaching thousands of enthusiastic, motivated, successful online students. I’ve also had the frustration of working with online students that display what I call “non-learning behaviors.” These behaviors include taking over the discussion board with irrelevant comments and topics; lurking in the background but rarely participating; overestimating his/her ability to utilize technology (or being afraid to use it at all); constantly challenging the course content, his/her peers, and/or me; and obsessing over grades.

What to do about Non-Learning Behaviors

In my twenty years as a college professor, I’ve discovered two things about these non-learning behaviors: they negatively impact learning and the online classroom environment for every student, and most negative behavior is the result of anxiety and poor self-esteem on the student’s part.

So how can I move students toward the “learning behaviors” that will ultimately lead to his/her success and enhance the online classroom environment for all students?

Three Techniques to Encourage Positive Online Learning Behavior

  1. Create clear rules and procedures. You know the old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Create a detailed syllabus that clearly outlines your expectations of classroom participation, behavior, and etiquette. Provide fair consequences, and be consistent in administering those rules.
  2. Create an online community, and build good rapport with your students. Use social, topical, and educational icebreakers on a weekly basis (just like you would in a traditional class). Actively participate yourself, answer discussion board questions, create new threads off of students posts, be a real presence in the class. Model the behavior you want to see in your students, and provide lots of opportunity for students to work together.
  3. Create engaging lessons where students are active participants in the learning process. Vary your lesson plans utilizing:
    • group projects
    • polling
    • technology
    • blogging
    • tweeting
    • quizzing
    • papers
    • discussion boards

There are thousands of synchronous and asynchronous methods to create an active online classroom for your students.

Ultimately I’ve discovered good behavior doesn’t really lead to learning; learning leads to good behavior. When students are engaged, active, informed, and valued, they are learning…and behaving!