In an academic context, incivility can be broadly defined as student behaviors that negatively affect the learning environment. One faculty member describes the dilemma of how to determine whether specific behaviors lack civility:
"Student unruliness is often in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. One senior professor commented that he thought wearing baseball caps turned backward was an affront to the dignity of the classroom; such a barometer had never occurred to me. But I can't tolerate anyone openly reading non-class-related material, and I regularly confiscate it. Another faculty member hearing me rant on expressed amusement: 'Why do that? At least they are reading something!'” (Perlmutter, 2004).
Some instructors are reluctant to confront incivility perhaps because they are unsure of what to do or on what grounds they might enforce civility. Section 1-201(b) of the UIUC Student Code states:
"It is expected that students enrolled in the university will conduct themselves at all times in accordance with accepted principles of responsible citizenship and with due regard for the rights of others."
Often, preventing disruptive behavior is easier than stopping it after it has begun. Sorcinelli (1994) suggests the following four strategies. These strategies, which have other instructional purposes as well, are developed elsewhere on this website.
- Define and model expectations so students know how you expect them to behave.
- Decrease anonymity by forming personal relationships with students so they don't feel lost in the crowd. Some instructors take photos of their students to help connect faces with names. However, if you choose to do this, be sure to be respectful of students' privacy. Student permission also must be acquired prior to picture taking.
- Use informal early feedback to determine what is working and what merits extra attention. This encourages communication, establishes a responsive tone, and demonstrates respect for and interest in student opinions.
- Encourage active learning so students are more engaged with the material and with each other during class. They are less likely to be bored or discourteous. They feel more responsible for preparing and coming to class, for paying attention during class, and for taking active responsibility for their own learning.
Prompt attention to incivility is generally easier than trying to respond to a problem that has grown out of proportion. When incivility does occur, the rest of the class is generally expecting the instructor to handle the problem quickly. However, before responding, instructors should make sure they are familiar with all applicable UIUC policies and department practices. When in doubt, consult with others to determine what action, if any, you will take.
Where can I learn more?
- Boice, R. (1996). Classroom incivilities. Research in Higher Education, 37(4), 453-486.
- Carbone, E. (1999). Students behaving badly in classes. In S.M. Richardson (Ed.), New Directions for Teaching and Learning: No. 77. Promoting civility: A teaching challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Perlmutter, D. D. (2004, April 2). Thwarting misbehavior in the classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. B14-15.
- Sorcinelli, M. D. (1994). Dealing with troublesome behaviors in the classroom. In K.W. Prichard & R. M. Sawyer (Eds.), Handbook of college teaching. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.