The online classroom may make it easier for students with personality problems or even mental health issues to go undetected. It may provide a false sense of security for some students who make friends with other students who may appear to be well. However, in any online situation, it is wise to look for some behavioral signals that may indicate some problems.
I have had students who ignore netiquette, aka rules of proper behavior in the online classroom. I have had a few students who concerned me to the point that I believed, for safety reasons, I had to report them. Although I have not had this happen often, it can be frightening for innocent students who get bullied or are provoked by these behaviorally-challenged students.
I recently had a student send me a note that she felt uncomfortable by certain wording that another student used in class. She asked me to ask the student to refrain from using what she considered profanity. Although this “profanity” may have seemed very mild to some of the other students, it bothered her. It is important for students to realize that everyone may not be comfortable with certain words.
In the Wall Street Journal article When Social Skills are a Warning, the author explained that it may be important to look for social skills that may indicate a warning of behavioral issues. Instructors and fellow students might be able to detect some early signs that are symptoms of problems like social indifference, lack of empathy, and inappropriate behavior. Some students do not recognize when to “back off” in discussions. In the article, the author explained how our brains are set up differently. “Some networks act as emotional brakes and others as the gas. Everyone has a different balance of these networks, which contributes to our personalities, emotions and behaviors.”
When students notice something that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should report it to their professor or counselor. Many students are harmless and just do not realize how they may come across to others. The problem is that there have been incidents that make the news that scare people. These past tragedies may help to make people more aware of the importance of recognizing behavior.
Just because there is a computer screen between students, does not mean there is no danger. Some students connect in online chat rooms. Sometimes they exchange email and telephone numbers. Just because a student is in an online college classroom, it does not ensure that this person is harmless. In online, just as in traditional courses, there will be some students who have behavioral problems. It is important that students do not let their guard down too far due to a possible incorrect assumption that all students must be normal. I do not want to squelch the college connection experience. It is just important to remember that people may have issues whether they are in a traditional or online location. Students should be just as vigilant about their safety in an online class as they would be in any other situation.