OPTION 3: Managing Student Behaviour and Conflict ~3 hrs.


  1. Guiding Questions This picture shows a dove with a twig in its beak, which is to represent the topic of the chapter concerned with the management of behavioural issues and conflict in the online classroom.
  2. Introduction
  3. Managing Difficult Students (includes Activity 1)
  4. Addressing Conflict in Groups (includes Activity 2)
  5. Optional: Annotate this Option to Give Feedback
  6. Module References

UDL: Principle of Representing Information in Multiple Ways:

Listen to or download this overview in audio format by clicking on this link here [new tab]. It will direct you to access the audio file on a U of L instructor Google drive (no sign-in required).

1. Guiding Questions

  1. How do personality and learning preferences in individual learners impact online course dynamics and how can different learner types be supported to successfully complete required tasks?
  2. What factors negatively impact student performance and how can they be managed to ensure academic success?
  3. What planning strategies can be applied to proactively avoid points for conflict?
  4. What conflict management methods can be used to ethically and effectively resolve conflict?

2. Introduction

No different from traditional on-campus classes, online courses welcome a broad range of individual learners who, with their unique set of personality traits, desires for learning, life-changing events in their biographies, and high hopes for future advancement, will inevitably shape the dynamics of your course(s) through the interactions with you and her/ his/ zer/ their peers.

You can place bets on the fact that there will be students who keep quiet and tend to only hesitatingly take part in the course conversations. At the same time, you can expect their exact opposites – the take-charge students or the ‘noisy’ ones as defined by Ko and Rossen (2010, p. 343). There will likely be students who disengage from your course for different reasons opposite to those who will challenge your knowledge or your authority. No doubt, these difficult student behaviours can make online teaching difficult at times.

It is therefore very important to know which specific factors cause or amplify difficult behaviours of students in online environments. An awareness for those factors is crucial as it guides your course design to include proactive strategies that can help prevent behavioural issues from arising. It also equips you with management methods that you can utilize to if you need resolve conflict with individual students or with dissonant student groups after all.

This chapter is designed to support you in the development of behaviour management and conflict resolution skills for the online classroom.

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3. Managing Difficult Students (includes Activity 1)

Students who demonstrate behavioural issues are often unclear about the course requirements or have not yet build proficient skill levels to learn independently online without some extra help coming from you. The difficulties students have and exhibit in their behaviour can thus take many forms – from an inability to adjust to new technologies, to domination or sidetracking of conversations, to a lack of participation and scapegoating others for the own lack in sufficient academic progress.

As those difficulties might show up with a delay in an online environment, you will need to become able to read signs as early as they appear and know which strategies to apply for different types of behaviour issues, some of which we will examine with the following activity.

This pictures shows a seedling to represent an activity in which the course participants are guided throug the steps of planning specific course elementsActivity 1: Management Strategies for Different Learner Types

This pictures shows a watch to illustrate the time estimate given hereTime Estimate: 60 – 9- mins.

This activity has  3 steps (outlined below).

Purpose: This activity introduces different learner types, describes their impact on the course dynamics and provides strategies to effectively deal with difficult behaviour.

Navigation: You will navigate between this chapter and the spaces where you can access the necessary information and collaborate with your peers.

Technology: The technology used for this activity include Pressbooks, Youtube, Moodle Wiki.

STEP 1: Choose your preferred way to learn about specific learner types, behavioural issues and suggested strategies below. Both formats present the same information, but in different ways (viewing/ listening a video presentation versus reading a book chapter).

This picture shows an open book to indicate the option to read the information. This picture shows a camera to indicate the option to watch a video presentation
Read the book chapter excerpt in  Ko, S. & Rossen, S. (2010). Online Teaching. A Practical Guide. Taylor and Francis. Read Chapter 12. Classroom Management. Special Issues, pp. 339 – 356.

Available as a fair dealings copy on Moodle

Watch the video presentation by Mandernach, J. (2013, October 22). Dealing with Difficult Students in the Online Classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nTStCJBECw

Pdf of powerpoint available from https://www.uttyler.edu/cetl/files/Difficultstudents.pdf

STEP 2: Direct your focus to answering the following two questions while accessing the necessary information.

  1. What are some common behavioural issues in specific types of online learners?
  2. What strategies can be applied to manage those behavioural problems?

STEP 3:  Share what you have learned with your peers in a collaborative Wiki-Activity in our U of L Moodle course (for UofL profs only), which you can access by clicking on this link.

You will be asked to enter 1 piece of information that speaks to the two questions above. If you need help in navigating the Moodle Wiki to complete this step, please take a look at the tutorial linked here [new tab].

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4. Addressing Conflict in Groups (includes Activity 2)

If the ability for team work is a professional outcome in your discipline, you will need to have a solid understanding of online group dynamics to design group activities that will help your students build the related collaboration skills without much intervention on your part. Pratt and Palloff, both online teaching veterans who have closely researched online teaching, are of the opinion that “with increased knowledge of online group dynamics, instructors can more easily adjust their strategies for dealing with problems such as difficult students or waning participation.” (2003, p. 159)

Knowledge of online group work relates to 1) a theoretical understanding how groups form and what the stages in the process of group development are, and 2) the strategies you can apply to work with difficult student in online groups.

4.1. Stage theory

According to Pratt and Palloff (2003), two theories are often brought into the discussion of group development: Tuckman and Jensen (1977) and McClure (2005); the former view group forming as a linear process with 5 distinct stages, while the latter considers it a chaotic and self-organizing process with stages between which groups move more fluidly. Both theories consider conflict an inevitable part of the process “that arises at varying points in the development of the group, and it is not uncommon for it to occur almost immediately.” (Pratt and Palloff, 2003, p. 160)

A third theory, less focused on stages, considers people, tasks and technology as important factors determining the success of teams. McGrath and Hollinghead (1994) proposed that for groups to complete a task successfully its individuals need to generate a sense of well-being through the interactions with the group members. This needs to happen in safe spaces where the group members can each support each other in achieving the collaborative tasks. It is important for the group members to feel good about the work they produce, to offer help to each offer and to be able to solve problems or resolve issues together.

Most theorists agree that groups develop in stages and over time, beginning with separate individuals who join together for a common purpose. There is often anxiety at the beginning that subsides with group members negotiating group rules or norms ,defining the scope of the work to be done by all and each individual, as well as strategies for conflict resolution. Conflict is considered an inevitable element of group development that will need to be anticipated in order for it not to impair the collaborative work.

Palloff and Pratt (2003, p. 173) have summarized the above-mentioned theories of group development in a figure that clearly illustrates the links necessary to complete a task between the individuals, the group, the facilitator and the technology. Each of the elements shown in the graph below list the characteristics that are necessary for effective online group work.

You can access those lists by clicking on the pink icons.

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In the following activity you will learn how Pratt and Palloff have applied McClure’s stage model to their own teaching of a specific online course to then draw specific conclusions from that course which resulted in recommendations for how to avoid and resolve conflict in in online student groups.

This pictures shows a seedling to represent an activity in which the course participants are guided throug the steps of planning specific course elementsActivity 2:  McClure’s Model Applied to Online Classes

This pictures shows a watch to illustrate the time estimate given hereTime Estimate: 60 – 90 min.

This activity has  3 steps (outlined below).

Purpose: Through the description of one group of students in an online class you will be provided with examples that illustrate the movements of that group through the stages proposed in McClure’s model. It will also help you draw conclusions for conflict management in your own online course(s).

Materials + Technology: You can access a fair dealings copy of the chapter 8: ‘Online Classroom Dynamics’ IN Pratt, R. M. & Palloff, K. (2003). Working with the Virtual Learner. Becoming Truly Learner-Focused: Best Practices in OL Teaching. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series: San Francisco. in our U of L Moodle course [new tab].

STEP 1: Read the part: ‘Applying What We Understand About Groups to Online Classes on the pages 163-171 of chapter 8: ‘Online Classroom Dynamics’ IN Pratt, R. M. & Palloff (2003).

  • What are the stages in the McClure model?
  • What issues of concern do students experience as they move through those stages?
This pictures shows an arrow graph with empty blanks to indicate the stages in the McClure model as well as issues of concern that emerge in online classrooms, (adapted from Pratt and Palloff, 2003, p. 162)
Study Scaffold: McClure Group Staging model (2005) adapted from Pratt and Palloff (2003, p. 162)

STEP 2: Identify specific student behaviour in the different stages laid out in McClure’s model to reflect on the following questions:

  • What are the signs that you as an instructor should notice that tell you whether groups move through the stages of development?
  • How could you facilitate movement to the next stage if a group becomes stuck in the conflict phases?
  • What is critical for the instructor to do to support team building and conflict resolution?

STEP 3: Browse the following evidence based teaching guides on group work provided by the free online quarterly journal Life Sciences Education to generate ideas how you can support your online students in the formation of effective teams. Let the following questions guide you:

  • Which of the resources would you like to use for your own online course? To what purpose?
  • Will you need to make any modifications?
CBE – Life Sciences Education. (n.d.). Group Work. Evidence Based Teaching Guides- LSE Resources. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://lse.ascb.org/evidence-based-teaching-guides/group-work/?_ga=2.256019403.1325621918.1569271634-188462711.1569271634

4.2 Strategies for Working with Online Course Dynamics

Generally, experienced online instructors agree with the statement made by Ko and Rossen (2010) that:

[…] most problems can be averted by the skillful management of student expectations such as we have outlined in earlier chapters – the comprehensive syllabus, clearly written assignment instructions, protocols for communication, code of conduct and clearly stated policies and criteria for grading as well as instructor responsiveness, are all ways to ensure that students understand how to do their best in your online course. (p. 343)

Pratt and Palloff (2003, p. 185-6) have derived a series of tips out of stage theory and their own experience teaching online, which are listed in the accordion below. You can click on each of its titles to reveal further explanations for each of the points.

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5. Annotate this Module page to provide feedback

This is OPTIONAL and only reccommended for those already familiar with the freely accessible web-annotation tool Hypothes.is, which you can use to share your reflections, ideas and suggestions in feedback comments with us the instructors and other peers in our secure, closed group specifically created for UofLFitFOL2020 cohort annotations.

You can only join this group after the set up of an Hypothesis account.

If you are curious learn more about Hypothes.is first, read this brief instructor tutorial here.

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6. References:

Distance Education Services, Uv. (2013). Managing Difficult Behaviours in the Online Classroom. https://www.uvic.ca/til/assets/docs/for_instructors/managing_students/Managing-Difficult-Behaviours.pdf

Ko, S. & Rossen, S. (2010). Online Teaching. A Practical Guide. Taylor and Francis. Read Chapter 12. Classroom Management. Special Issues, pp. 339 – 356.

Mandernach, J. (2017). Dealing with “Difficult” Students  in the Online Classroom. https://www.uttyler.edu/cetl/files/Difficultstudents.pdf

Mandernach, J. (2013, October 22). Dealing with Difficult Students in the Online Classroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nTStCJBECw

McClure, B. A. (2005). Putting a new spin on groups: The science of chaos. Psychology Press.

McGrath, J. E., & Hollingshead, A. B. (1994). Groups interacting with technology: Ideas, evidence, issues, and an agenda (pp. ix, 181). Sage Publications, Inc.

Pratt, R. M. & Palloff, K. (2003). Working with the Virtual Learner. Becoming Truly Learner-Focused: Best Practices in OL Teaching. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series: San Francisco.

Veletsianos, G. (2020). Learning Online: The Student Experience. Johns Hopkins University Press.Retrieved from: https://muse.jhu.edu/book/73824

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Fit for Online Learning Copyright © 2020 by U of L Teaching Centre: Jördis Weilandt, Erin Reid, Kristi Thomas, Brandy Old, and Jeff Meadows is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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