Civility/Incivility in the College Classroom


Incivility is any kind of disruptive classroom behavior that shows disrespect or disregard for the instructor and fellow-students. It can dramatically diminish the effectiveness of a course and cause great stress for the instructor. This section starts with several sites that describe forms of incivility, suggestions for handling it, and current research on incivility. The remaining links provide practical approaches for reducing and dealing with disruptive classroom behaviors.


General Resources: Issues and Approaches

"Dealing with Troublesome Behaviors in the Classroom," by Mary Deane Sorcinelli (University of Massachusetts, Amherst).
Categorizes irritating and disruptive student behaviors, provides strategies for creating a classroom environment that can avert many problems, and suggests ways to deal with troublesome behaviors when they occur.
Responding to Disruptive or Threatening Student Behavior: A Guide for Faculty (Virginia Tech).
A nineteen-page manual for dealing with inappropriate, disruptive, or threatening behavior.
The Civil Classroom in the Age of the Net,” by P.M. Forni (The NEA Higher Education Thought and Action Journal, Fall 2008, 15-22).
Forni laments the decline in civil interaction on American college campuses, exacerbated by the Net, and provides ways in which a professor can foster an environment of engagement and relaxed formality.
Incivility” by B.A. Berger (American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, Vol. 64, No. 4, 2000).
Gives examples of student incivility and possible causes. Then provides does and don’t for responding to specific types of incivility. The appendix contains excerpts from 2 syllabi that address expectations for student behavior plus a weekly class assessment form.
Remedial Civility Training” by Thomas H. Benton (The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 7, 2007).
Describes some of the more common incivilities of today’s students and their deficiencies in reading and writing.  Attributes this behavior to cultural issues and negative values of their previous twelve years of schooling.  Argues that faculty must provide remedial attention to these behaviors in order for students to succeed in college and in life.

Cropping Out Incivility” by Maria Shine Stewart (Inside Higher Ed, July 29, 2011).
Discusses examples of hurtful behavior; concludes that the entire campus community must work together ”to consciously ….build kinder campus communities.”

Civility Toolbox (University of Missouri).
Provides a page of links to tools for fostering civility in college classrooms and campuses.  Includes articles, speakers bureau list, and general tips and quotes.

Civility in the College Classroom” by Jennifer L. Schroeder & Harvetta Robertson (Association for Psychological Science, APS Observer, November 2008).
Lays out the problem of classroom incivility and provides suggestions to promote civil behavior, such as “be proactive” by setting up expectations and “have a plan” for dealing with unexpected behaviors.
Coping with ‘Oy Vey’ Students” by Mary McKinney (Inside Higher Ed, Dec. 19, 2005).
McKinney offers a list of whining “oy vey” student behaviors that will be recognizable to anyone who has taught college students.  These students see themselves as the center of the universe and can’t imagine that their professors don’t as well. She concludes that part of our mission as teachers is to “demonstrate maturity, respect and empathy” in the hope that students will internalize these behaviors themselves.

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Research in Academic Incivility

A Survey of Academic Incivility at Indiana University, Bloomington (Preliminary Report, June 14, 2000).
Results of a survey of faculty and graduate instructors asking about the extent and types of incivility they encountered, their responses, and their perceptions about who engages in incivility.

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Specific Strategies for Dealing with Incivility

Combating Classroom Misconduct (Incivility) with Bills of Rights,” Linda B. Nilson and Nancy S. Jackson (Clemson University).
Reviews prevention strategies presented in the literature on incivility and proposes another: class and instructor develop a mutual bill of rights and responsibilities on the first day of class. Includes example.
The Learning Environment at ESF ( SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry).
Students are asked to sign this one-page document that offers “Guidelines for Positive Classroom Environment,” demonstrating their responsibility and respect.

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List of Online Resources

Classroom Civility, Joe Clark (Florida State University).
Links to online resources for encouraging classroom civility organized by type:  General Resources, Discussion Archives, Lighter Side, Workshop Materials, and YouTube Videos.  These links provide a good overview of strategies for dealing with this issue.

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Examples from the Classroom for Consideration and Discussion

Disruptive Student Behavior:  The Entitled Students” by Billie Hara ( ProfHacker-- The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 2012).
Examples for discussion of the “entitled” student behaviors similar to those in Mary McKinney’s  ‘oy vey’ article above. 
 “Disruptive Student Behavior:  The Bullies” by Billie Hara (ProfHacker--The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 2, 2010).
Hara contends that the bullying “becoming all too common in our society,” extends to the classroom.  Then presents for discussion several scenarios of classroom bullying and one of bullying within a department.
Should Profs Leave Unruly Classes?”  by Scott Jaschik (Inside Higher Ed, November 2010).
Contends that the university needs to do more to educate students on acceptable and unacceptable student behavior.  Also stresses the need for outlining expectations on the first day of class.

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