Problems and Solutions for Online, Written Discussion Questions

Problem: Students are rude to each other.

Solution: Depending on the severity of the rudeness, a teacher might wish to screenshot the comment in situ, and then delete the comment. If peers have called the student to task, the teacher will need to decide whether the “public” reprimand by peers is appropriate. If not, then those posts might need to be deleted. If a series of angry back and forth comments has ensued, then the teacher might wish to close and hide the discussion entirely, giving all the participants a chance to cool down. If the comment has seemingly gone unrecognized, the teacher must balance the need for a public reprimand (showing that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated in the course) versus the possibility that the statement was unintentional, (and thus better handled as a private learning opportunity.)

Before contacting the student, the teacher should take a moment to review their perception of the situation to identify possible biases in student discipline. If the rudeness is centered on race, class, or culture, then the teacher might wish to consult with a supervisor for assistance before contacting the student and their parent or guardian.

Students are less likely to be rude to each other when the teacher is visible in the online discussion every day.

Problem: Students are simply parroting “Good job.”

Solution: Take time in a live class session to review a model set of answers. Don’t use a student as a shining example but instead create your own model answer. Show them what the teacher is looking for, “These words show me that the student read the original question. This part shows me where they brought in new information.” Remind them that mimicking “Good job” will not give them full credit for their work. No live session? Make a video. No videos? Make a PDF handout with a sample answer that the teacher has marked up in red pen with written explanations of why it was graded as it was.

Problem: Students are not using good mechanics when they write. Sentences are not capitalized, etc.

Solution: Take time in a live class session to show students how to use a word processor, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word, with the grammar check system on. Copy and paste a badly written answer (not one from a student) in the word processor and show students how to use the automatic correction. No live session? Make a video. No videos? Make a PDF handout with a sample answer that a teacher has marked up in red pen with written explanations of why it was graded as it was.

Problem: Students are copying each other.

Solution: This is a two-part issue. Teachers will need to address the person being copied and the copier. This may take several rounds before it “sticks.” Here are some sample responses:

  • Round 1:
    • To the person who brought the complaint: “I’m sure you understand we can’t discuss other individual students due to privacy concerns, but you may rest assured that I have taken appropriate measures.”
    • To the student who copied (with attached screenshot): “I know that you’re working hard in this class, but I’m sure you can see how similar this is. I realize that there are only so many right answers, but I would like to encourage you to write your answers in a separate word processor before even looking at the discussion board.”
  • Round 2:
    • To the person who brought the complaint, with a BCC to a supervisor: “I understand your frustration. I have looped others in on this situation so that we may handle it with grace for all involved.”
    • To the student who copied (with attached screenshot, and copy and paste of the suggested models from the course policy): “I know we’ve talked about this before, but we need to sit down and discuss how you can structure your independent responses. Below is a list of models. I would encourage you to choose one of these in the future.”
  • Round 3:
    • To the person who brought the complaint, with a BCC to a supervisor: “You’re absolutely right, and while I cannot discuss other students, the school administration is handling this.”
    • To the student who copied (with attached screenshot): “From now on, I would like you to submit your written discussion responses individually to me via email so that I can offer you structured feedback to better support your writing.”

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