Responding to Disruptions in Asynchronous Courses

You may encounter students who create disruptions in discussion forums, teams, or emails through rudeness, offensive comments, “flaming,” inappropriate defensiveness, or “sealioning.” If the disruption creates an unsafe learning environment or is potentially injurious to other students, it is necessary to intervene.

  • Post clear conduct policies including expectations of what to do and not to do up front in your syllabus or another document clarifying course policies. These policies are the reference point and can serve as a contract or covenant between the instructor and all of the class members. You may even want to include these policies in an Orientation or Introductory module where you require students to “sign off” in the form of a short quiz or other activity that prompts a response.
  • When students defy these policies, it is imperative that the instructor be present enough in the course that they may interrupt the disruptive cycle without undue delay. It’s important to refer back to the policies to remind the entire class of what they are and why you are intervening. Do this in the discussion where the incident has occurred and even follow through with an announcement and/or email to clarify the conduct expectations for the course. This re-establishes the safety of the course environment. In some cases, the instructor might need to lock the discussion thread or hide the offending post(s).
  • Talk through the issue in private with both the offender and the offended. Start with emails to each party involved in the incident to have the interaction in writing. At this point, develop a restorative program that will bring the offending student back into the discussion. It is an educative process to build awareness and correction. Also express the process if the offending student breaks the agreement with continued behavior. If need be, write up a contract with the student to formalize the process. Be sure to get both the process and the student’s consent to the process in writing.
  • If the offending student persists in the initial behavior or similar disruptive behaviors, you will need to refer them to Student Conduct. Often, students engaging in this sort of behavior are working through their own personal issues that require additional services outside of the scope of the class environment.
  • For more instruction on responding to students who are exhibiting symptoms of distress or trauma, consider enrolling in OL 1200: Supporting World Campus Students in Distress. Register on the World Campus Online Faculty Development site.
  • For other approaches to crafting a protocol for working with disruptions, please refer to Classroom Disruption Protocols from Educational Equity.