Facilitating Civility in Distance Education

Facilitating Civility in Distance Education

Catherine F. Flynn
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3583-7.ch001
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Higher education has a long history of incivility, and the advent of distance learning has further exacerbated the issues. Increasing incivility in our society adds another challenging dimension to combating incivility and maintaining a supportive, educational environment. This chapter addresses the challenges of maintaining civility in the online teaching and learning environment that facilitates access 24/7. Specific issues relevant to disruptive actions in distance learning are covered, as well as strategies for preventing and reducing online incivility. Promoting a sense of connectiveness and social interaction is recommended, while also maintaining a professional relationship. Online culture is discussed as a key element in establishing an effective online environment.
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Civility in public discourse has garnered a great deal of attention in recent times with much debate on its role in our lives, both personal and professional (Levine, 2010). A “Civility in America” survey administered in 2018 found that 93% of Americans reported a severe civility deficit in this nation, with almost 70% identifying it as a major problem. Indeed, incivility permeates all corners of our lives, and academic institutions struggle against students and faculty that can be contentious and disrespectful. William Ouchi, author of Theory Z, contends Americans have lost their sense of trust and the appreciation for friendship (1981). Clearly lack of civility is not a recent phenomenon. Ouchi cited shortcomings more than three decades ago. Of relevance to distance education is that Ouchi did not cite technology as being the cause of increased incivility in the nation, but rather how we manage people and engage with one another: our connectiveness and social interaction.

Distance learning and its inherent technology was scarcely a consideration in 1981 when Ouchi called out Americans for failure to trust, appreciate, and demonstrate concern for one another. Today, online degree programs are ubiquitous and unprecedented in their scope and scale. Distance learning, by design, is geographically unconstrained, opening the doors of higher education to the most diverse populations ever served. New populations of students are entering online colleges and universities at a time when much lower financial support is being provided by the government. The resulting competition for students and dollars pits institutions against one another to recruit, retain, and graduate students, resulting in shifting strategies in the student-faculty relationship and higher education as a whole (Misawa & Rowland, 2015).

The shifting landscape of higher education presents students, faculty, and administrators with a myriad of challenges in achieving their respective objectives. With changing demographics in distance learning, civility issues are escalating (Offstein & Chory, 2017). The disruptive actions are associated with an increasingly socially, economically, and racially diverse student population. Research points to issues of entitlement among college students, as well as lack of preparation for college-level work, and student-as-consumer mindsets as causes for anxiety and associated disruptive actions in the classroom (Nordstrom, Bartels & Bucy, 2009; Reich & Crouch, 2007). Further, increasingly diverse college populations bring numerous student expectations and attitudes about learning in general and the academic environment in particular. Incivility has received much focus in higher education because it has the potential to seriously compromise the learning environment. Strategies for preventing and reducing online incivility include building a sense of connection and social interaction, maintaining an environment of respect and professional decorum, in addition to a clearly established online culture (Offstein & Chory, 2017; Weeks, 2011).

Technology and its associated innovations, particularly the World Wide Web, have restructured higher education, bringing enormous variety to learning environments and modalities (Hamann, Pollock, Smith, & Wilson, 2016). Perhaps most jarring to traditional learning environments is the shift from a teacher-centered to learner-centered world, and from a face-to-face environment, to online delivery (Rieck & Crouch, 2007). Opportunities presented by distance learning are substantial, with availability of diverse experiences, encounters with different cultures, and a venue for exchanging ideas and knowledge without the restraints of physical boundaries (Lagier, 2003). However, few opportunities arrive without negatives associated with their emergence. Forni, author of several volumes on civility, observed in 2008 that “For quite some time, we have observed that the disengaged, disrespectful, and unruly student behavior that used to be confined to secondary schools has reached higher education” (p. 15).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hyperconnectivity: The use of multiple means of communication including instant messaging, telephone, email, online sources, face-to-face contact, and other information services.

Learner-Centered: Places the learner at the center of the learning process. The learner or student is responsible for learning while the tutor or instructor supports facilitation of the learning process.

Civility: Politeness and civility in behavior and speech; the act of showing regard for others through words and actions.

Sage on the Stage: An educator, typically at the postsecondary level, who imparts knowledge largely be lecturing to an audience. The phrase is generally seen as derogatory, indicative of a “chalk and talk” strategy rather than working to facilitate education.

Disruptors: Someone or something that temporarily or permanently interrupts an activity by causing a disturbance or problem.

Social Isolation: Condition in which persons, groups, or cultures lose or do not have communication with one another

Connectivity: Concept is often linked to computers or computer systems, but also applies to human connection and the ability to communicate effectively.

Teacher-Centered: Students put their attention on the teacher, listening to the instructor’s lecture and discussion. Students work alone in classroom activities with little collaboration.

Guide by the Side: An educator whose teaching method is designed to provide students with advice and assistance, while primarily allowing them to explore an area of interest independently.

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