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Teaching Online
Home » Faculty/Staff » Teaching Online » Problem Students

Problem Students

There are many serious issues here than can affect the quality and climate of your course. Much of this is due to a lack of significant tradition with online classes and outside pressures on students. Some students just require a gentle reminder, others may require a stronger response. Incidents like this must be handled quickly and should be prevented from reoccurring or your course could become seriously disrupted.

Disruptive Behavior



Email:rude, angry, silly, excessive, disrespectful, insulting, badgering

  • wait a day or so before responding (cool off period)
  • ignore if the email was simply venting
  • email back and address, explain, or answer the issue raised by the student ignoring the emotion (some mention of respect or politeness in email might be appropriate)
  • if serious and continued, block from class until they contact your Dean
Discussion: inappropriate or crude language or topics, too personal, insensitive to others, attacks on others, bullying, excessive irrelevant or distracting post
  • state communication expectations in your syllabus or in the orientation and reiterate the expectations in the first discussion instructions
  • if necessary, delete posts and contact the student to remind them of the class syllabus and expectations
  • review college policies with the student; cite Cuyamaca's Code of Conduct
  • if serious and continued, block from class until they contact your Dean

Grade Disputes: unrelenting challenges to written work scores, unending challenges to question wording, unreasonable demands for exceptions

  • cite syllabus, assignment instructions, rubrics used, and performance record
  • state how exceptions are not fair to others in the class
  • suggest ways the student could improve their overall grade in the class
  • if the student is not satisfied, give them your Chair's contact information (if it cannot be resolved by the Chair, it is sent to your Dean)

Rebellious Student: disputes instructor publicly, puts down course and grading, tries to take over class, erratic behavior


  • handle with private message (noting how their behavior is interfering with the learning process of others in the class)
  • don't get too defensive, just deal with facts and solutions for the student
  • be clear on limits and explain what they CAN do positively in the class
  • if frustrated over low grades, address how they can improve in the class
  • suggest a face-to-face class might better fit their learning style




Exams: students taking exams for each other or getting assistance from another during online test-taking
  • use all exam security features: question pools with random selection, timer, one-at-a-time question presentation, backtracking prohibited
  • change question pools frequently
  • give on-campus exams (some faculty even require picture IDs be presented)
  • include more written work in your courses to offset the weight of exams
  • some instructors actually encourage student collaboration on exams (and use other assessments as a major grade determinant
  • include a link to Cuyamaca's Dishonesty Policies
  • technologically sophisticated instructors have been able to track the IP addresses of the computers students are using; they have also encrypted student information into files so that they can be traced back to the owner
  • although it is the instructor's responsibility to monitor for dishonesty, remember: 1) do not jeopardize a good relationship with most students because of a fear of a few potential trouble-makers, 2) these problems also occur in face-to-face classes, 3) in the end, cheaters are only harming themselves.

Assignments: students using (or buying) predone papers or paying another to take your entire course, students using someone's work from a previous semester

  • make assignment requirements so specific that predone papers cannot be used easily
  • keep past assignments on record
  • use Canvas plagiarism checker
  • ask for submission of preliminary work such as outlines, drafts
  • always demand references for any information cited
  • change assignments frequently
  • include suggestions from "Best Practice Strategies to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education" from WCET (Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications.



Entire Work (or entire sentences. paragraphs):
  • use Canvas plagiarism checker
  • use Google to search a large section of paper's text (in quotes) to find source
  • look for odd formatting in the student's pages or odd changes in writing style
  • to search image sources: Eye
  • first offense, explain plagiarism (see links below) - many students truly do not understand this - then either give a zero on assignment or allow resubmission (most times, this alone will resolve the issue, but be sure to check past assignments as they may to have plagiarized before you first noticed)



Late Work


Late Work
Missed deadlines:
  • zero tolerance, but opportunity for additional, extra-credit as makeup
  • give a few days grace period after each deadline
  • give reduced points for late work (Canvas gradebook settings can automate this)
  • allow everyone one (or two) late submissions
  • use Canvas requirements and prerequisite modules in place of deadlines

Excuses for absence:

  • zero tolerance, but opportunity for additional, extra-credit makeup
  • evaluate the excuse (illness versus vacation) or demand written proof
  • specify that students must notify you ahead of time if they are to be absent for a period of time



Last Updated: 08/23/2019
  • Grossmont
  • Cuyamaca
A Member of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District