If you have worked in education long enough, chances are that you have had to deal with student threats. A typical scenario in online courses usually unfolds like this: a student disappears from class for a while and misses several assignments. This student appears again after the last day of class and begs to be allowed to make up the missed assignments to bring up their score. The instructor sticks with class policy and the student’s grade stays the same.
The student then proceeds to write an intense email letter that threatens to give the professor a very bad course review if he or she doesn’t raise the grade. Or the student goes to another site like Facebook to start a group to spread stories about how “bad” their professor was.
Instructors in this situation are justified in being a bit concerned because student evaluations affect pay and eventually tenure. Anything from evaluations to ratemyprofessor.com could be used to get back at a professor for just doing their job. Not to mention the fear that some student might get mad enough to come back with a gun.
Of course, student reactions are not the only concern here. Their parents can be just as threatening – especially at the grade school level. The scary truth about cyberbullying is that anyone can bully or be bullied.
Most schools have policies that somewhat deal with physical threats to instructors. These policies need to be expanded to deal with electronic means of communication and the cyberbullying that can occur through those. Now, I don’t think that these policies should be so strict that students are afraid to respectfully disagree with their professors. The goal should be to create a system that deals with malicious libel, slander, or misrepresentation of events through any electronic means, whether these actions are actually carried out or just threatened.
I would also then suggest that schools create an anonymous web page where anyone (students, instructors, or community members) can submit links to specific instances that they think are inappropriate. We shouldn’t just make instructors or students responsible for self-reporting these incidences. Empower students and even people that have no connection to your school with the ability to stop threatening activities. Whether it is students witnessing other students bullying each other on Facebook, or a random web surfer finding malicious threats against a professor in a discussion forum – give these people the power to do something about it and report it to officials at your school.