Just like with a regular classroom, you will occasionally be called upon to take care of classroom management problems. These manifest differently in an online classroom. In classrooms that consist mainly of adults, classroom management problems tend to be far fewer and usually revolve around inattention or a loss of respect. Classes that consist of middle school or high school students face some of the same challenges that their traditional on-the-ground equivalents see, only in a different format.
The quickest way to lose control of a classroom is to undermine your place as the authority figure. Never make up content or support, and be prepared to back up your stance with evidence if you are tackling a controversial subject. Make it clear that opinions are opinions, and thus may vary. Effective learning is about questioning, and you will not always know the answer to every question asked. Be honest with the class when faced with questions for which you don’t know the answers. Use them as opportunities to demonstrate effective ways to independently seek information.
Active discussions should be monitored and moderated as needed. You will find that you have some students who post frequently and others who stick to the minimum. In a traditional classroom, you can moderate discussions through protocols like hand raising and requiring students to be silent while others speak. This is harder to manage in an online classroom. However it is important, especially if a discussion gets carried away. Students who regularly face hundreds of new posts when they log in to a class later in the day may be tempted to refrain from posting themselves or withdraw completely. They are also less likely to read the whole of the conversation that has taken place.
If you find that your class is regularly dominated by two or three posters, talk to them. Work out some limits on how often and how rapidly they respond. Be clear that the purpose for this limitation is to let other voices in the class be heard.
All eLearning platforms will provide you with moderation tools. Learn how to use these so that, if you need them, you don’t have to spend time reading the documentation. Some platforms will let you set additional moderators for discussion areas. This is useful, especially if you are working with a larger class size.
At the beginning of the course, you should set up a class agreement. This is a document that lays out discussion protocols, as well as the level of respect towards the teacher and fellow students that is expected. Allow students to have some input on the agreement. This way, they will have a level of ownership over it that will make it easier for everyone to enforce.
When dealing with classroom management issues, always be sure to explain the situation to the student. Action without explanation is likely to simply inflame the situation. In online classes where anyone can create an account and access the class, this can lead to some pretty nasty trolling. It is far easier to simply treat your students with respect from the start.