Learners in Crisis
Instructors are often the first to become aware of a learner in crisis. This may take the form of a disclosure in an email, disturbing remarks online or in the context of an assignment.
Counselling Services are available for distance learners. UBC counsellors prefer to work directly with the instructor (or staff member) who is in contact with the student - to facilitate the referral.
If you are concerned about a student's behavior, contact Counselling Services for advice and support: 604-822-3811 or in an emergency, contact: 604-822-9260.
Managing Difficult Learners
The material that follows is substantively taken from a 2003 article by Kate Butler (2003), and made available through the website of the Australian Flexible Learning Network . It has been modified for the UBC context, and to reflect more common issues with adult learners. There are a variety of definitions of what makes a ‘difficult’ online learner, and there are no infallible ways of avoiding or dealing with incidents of bad or disruptive behaviour. In the context of online learning, the following are examples of learners who could be considered ‘difficult’. A learner who:
- Doesn’t keep in contact regularly
- Consistently doesn’t do what they say they will
- Doesn’t achieve set goals or maintain their commitment to study
- Doesn’t respond to specific requests and questions
- Ignores advice
- Contributes inappropriately to group tasks
- Doesn’t work as an active and supportive group member
- Disrupts other learners through their behaviour
- Makes offensive remarks
- Challenges the facilitator’s/instructor’s authority, either publicly or privately
- Submits work that is plagiarized or not their own
Instructor/Facilitator's Role: There are no foolproof ways of preventing difficult behaviour online and, as with other delivery methods, the key is that you need to:
- Be aware of what might happen
- Make sure you are as aware and informed as possible
- Make sure learners are as aware and informed as possible
- Know what procedure is expected of you
- React objectively and supportively
- Seek support from colleagues when necessary
It is also possible that some challenging experiences might prove to be a positive learning experience for you and the learner alike. Some challenging behaviour is deemed so simply because it makes the job of the facilitator/instructor harder. In other cases, behaviour is more consciously disruptive and detrimental to the learning experience of other learners. These definitions could apply to learners in any delivery medium but it can help the online facilitator/instructor to look more specifically at ways to prevent them and respond to them in the online environment.
Prevention Make sure the learner knows what to expect when embarking on online study. Irregular contact, failure to achieve goals or respond to requests may be caused by the learner’s ignorance of what is expected. Make sure that your expectations are stated very clearly at the beginning of the course, to ensure learners know what they are getting themselves in to. This should include guidelines on appropriate behaviour and detail as to the expected time commitment and technological requirements.
Model the behaviour you expect The way you relate to learners will have an impact on their understanding of how to behave in an online environment and can be the best way to demonstrate what is expected. Establish a good relationship with learners where you stay open to ideas and problems, respond promptly and always communicate in a considered and considerate way.
Know when to intervene and refer on Sometimes it becomes clear that a learners' challenges require additional support. UBC's Counselling Services offer these Guidelines for Faculty and Staff for referring at risk learners.
Most adult learners enroll in courses because they are genuinely interested in learning more about the topics under study, and perhaps because they believe that the material will help them in their personal and/or professional lives. This makes it less likely that course participants will engage in behaviour that we might call “cheating” – a phenomenon that is more common where learners are extremely time stressed, or feel pressured to complete work for ‘bureaucratic’ reasons rather than in pursuit of personal learning goals.
On the other hand, accepting plagiarized material from learners denies them the opportunity to engage in the meaningful critical reflection and writing that contributes to good learning. Moreover, learning to accurately assess the credibility and authority of information sources, and learning to accurately attribute material and ideas to their original authors contributes to a learners personal and professional skillset. There are various strategies for trying to prevent plagiarism, such as giving clear information on what is unacceptable, and building a relationship with learners so you get to know their skill levels.
If you suspect plagiarism, it can help to:
- Tactfully (and privately) explain your concerns to the learner, and direct them to UBC’s Academic Integrity Resource Centre or the Learning Commons' Academic Integrity page.
Remember that some learners may not understand what plagiarism means, or why you have concerns about it. This detailed Resource Centre teaches learners how to correctly cite their work.
- Direct learners to UBC Library resource pages on:
- Give the learner the opportunity to explain themselves
- Give the learner the chance to resubmit work
- Consult the course coordinator or your department head to develop a plan of action.