In all communities, both virtual and in-person, balancing freedom/openness and inclusivity/safety is a fundamental tension.
Flex-hybrid classroom environments have both disadvantages and advantages in this regard.
On the one hand, Canvas discussions and video class meetings can make “trolling” easier. Here’s why:
- Students who are isolated at home will not have to face outside consequences for their actions in class, so trolling comes with less of a social cost.
- In asynchronous discussions, the instructor isn’t always present to deal with offensive comments as they happen.
- It is easier for text-only communication to be misinterpreted.
On the other hand, virtual environments – especially asynchronous ones – can make it easier to prevent those “difficult moments” when a student says something really inappropriate. Here’s why:
- Written communication in Canvas can be moderated in a way that in-person classroom discussions cannot.
- Students also have more time to consider posts they make to discussion forums than they do comments that they make in spoken discussions.
- An instructor can mute a student who is saying inappropriate or hurtful things.
- In the case of truly egregious behavior or comments, it is easier for a student to be removed from a synchronous video discussion than from a physical classroom. It is also easier for students who are hurt by others’ comments to distance themselves from the discussion if needed.
Make the Rules Clear
Obviously, it is preferable not to have to get to the point of deleting posts or removing students from the course. To prevent this from happening, the diversity statement in your syllabus should spell out rules for civility.
It may be helpful to have students agree upon rules for the content of discussion comments in a shared Google Doc.
Model the Kind of Discourse You Want in Your Class
You should model the kind of civil, courteous, and supportive discourse you want to have in your classes in your own communication with students. Strive for a warm and supportive tone. (Many instructors commented on how important tone was to students during the period of remote learning in the spring.)
Flower Darby’s helpful guide to online teaching in the Chronicle of Higher Education provides the following example.
“Some of you have skipped the past few quizzes. You won’t pass this class if you continue to do so.”
“Thank you for your work in this class. I know it’s a lot to manage. Just a reminder, make sure you’re taking all the quizzes to help you be successful here. Please contact me if I can help or answer any questions. Thanks!”
How to Deal with Offensive Comments
- Edit or delete offensive posts in Canvas discussion forums. Here’s how to edit/delete individual posts. To remove a student from a forum completely, you can remove them from the assignment. It’s a bit of a work-around, but it’s not hard. Assign the discussion to the student in question separately (here’s how to do that). Give the student a due date in the past, and make the assignment available only until the due date. This will effectively lock the student out of the discussion forum.
- Mute a student who is making offensive comments during a synchronous class meeting. Here’s how to do it in Meet, and here’s how to do it in Zoom.
- Remove a student who repeatedly makes offensive comments from a synchronous class meeting.
Respond to offensive statements or any other violations of class discussion rules via video, rather than written comments. It’s less likely that video will be misinterpreted.