Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community


Although we hope that you can avoid conflicts with students throughout your teaching career, it is occasionally necessary to respond to disruptive behavior and initiate disciplinary action for academic misconduct. The resources on this page are designed to offer suggestions for how to handle these unfortunate situations. The pieces of advice offered below can be helpful to instructors of all levels, but we encourage GTAs, TAs, and new teachers to read this page carefully so that they can be prepared to resolve disruptive behavior and confront academic misconduct. 

Responding to Disruptive Behaviors

Incivility and misconduct disrupt learning. To keep your classroom environment positive, consider these suggestions from Mary Lord, reprinted in “Tomorrow’s Professor.”

1. Halt Bad Behavior Before it Starts.

Set expectations early, in writing and verbally. Research shows that students are more likely to rationalize misconduct if they feel the instruction is poor, lecture confusing, or workload unreasonable. Underscoring the relevance of the material and learning objectives can boost motivation and reduce the urge to cheat.

2. Decrease Anonymity.

Faculty who get to know their students tend to have less conflict in the classroom or hostile discourse online. Calling on students by name makes an instructor seem more approachable and thus more likely to gain their respect. Large lecture class? Scheduling time to meet individually with students can foster rapport.

3. Encourage Active Learning.

Classes that include peer-to-peer learning have fewer incidents of rude or unethical behavior, research indicates, because students tend to take more responsibility and hold each other accountable. Active learning and small-group work can reduce chatting and inattentiveness even in large classes.

4. Make it Harder to Cheat.

The availability of solutions to textbook problems on the Internet makes it hard for educators to directly address cheating on homework. Consider research on the value of ungraded assignments, increasing the weight of projects, and either writing your own questions or swapping problems with instructors at other schools. Other studies have found that giving harsh warnings against cheating right before a test can reduce transgressions by 13 percent, with a 25 percent drop for writing multiple versions of a test. Meanwhile, plagiarism-detection software can cut down on copy-and-paste essays or computer code.

5. Establish Ground Rules for Disruptive Technologies.

Many students view smartphones and tablets as essential tools. To minimize withdrawal pains, on the first day of class you might discuss and then vote on rules and consequences for disruptive technologies. The most successful has been a two-minute texting/phone/email break in the middle of class.

6. If you can't beat 'em...

Tablets, smartphones, and other mobile technologies can be used to promote deeper engagement and understanding. For example, ask students to take notes on tablets, use smartphone accelerometer apps to track their commute to class and graph the data, and conduct hands-on mini-experiments using other free measurement apps. Students also can use their smart devices in independent projects—all without the college needing to invest heavily in infrastructure.

7. Address Disruptive Behavior Immediately.

Faculty and students agree that ignoring incivility is the least effective approach for halting it. Think about talking to inattentive students in private or refocusing the class by using think/pair/share or other active-learning techniques. Severe disruptions, such as threats of violence, may leave faculty members no option but to stop the lecture and contact campus security.

In their teaching workshops, Richard M. Felder, a retired chemical engineering professor from North Carolina State University, and his wife, Rebecca Brent, ask participants to brainstorm responses to such everyday disruptions as students strolling in late, chatting loudly, or sleeping. Ironically, no one ever recommends asking the offenders politely but firmly to stop their rude behavior. "It's almost as if instructors don't know it's legal to do it," wrote Felder and Brent in a column. "It is legal. And it works." So does chiding. To look up from that Youtube video, students often need just one word: "Really?!"

References: “Driven to Distraction.” Tomorrow's Professor.

How to Handle Academic Misconduct

How do we prevent students from committing academic misconduct? First, we must have a clear idea of what constitutes academic misconduct. According to the KU University Senate Rules and Regulations, academic misconduct includes the following actions:

• disruption of classes;

• threatening an instructor or fellow student in an academic setting;

• giving or receiving of unauthorized aid on examinations or in the preparation of notebooks, themes, reports or other assignments;

• knowingly misrepresenting the source of any academic work;

• unauthorized changing of grades;

• unauthorized use of University approvals or forging of signatures;

• falsification of research results;

• plagiarizing of another's work;

• violation of regulations or ethical codes for the treatment of human and animal subjects;

• acting dishonestly in research;

As you can see, there are many ways that students can commit academic misconduct. While instructors should be familiar with the above definition, we should also consider the actual practice of identifying, preventing, and handling academic misconduct. It is important to prepare for situations in which you have to respond to academic misconduct. At CTE, we have adapted the following strategies from the Faculty and Development website of the University of California (San Marcos). These strategies are designed to help instructors prevent in-class cheating, particularly on exams.

Preventing Academic Misconduct

1. Prepare at least two versions of the exam;

2. Assign seats;

3. Remind students of the course and university penalties for academic misconduct;

4. Require students to present photo-ID to acquire the exam;

5. Have students clear their desks of all items not necessary for the exam;

6. Prohibit use of cell-phones;

7. Walk around the room throughout the exam. Also instruct TAs to do the same;

8. Concentrate on student behavior throughout the exam (do not read or grade papers);

9. Have students place their completed exams in an envelope or other secure location;

News & Notes

See how CTE is leading the shift to flexible teaching at KU.

Visit the Flex Teaching sitewhich provides help for creating flexible courses that can shift between in-person and online.