Handling Student Problems


Students with learning difficulties of many types present a challenge for the instructor whether online or face-to-face. Here are a few tips to consider.

Do they have technical difficulties?

  • Before entering the school, students declared their technical competence. Some, however, overestimate that competence.
  • If their skill level is low, students should be encouraged to change to a class requiring less tool skills and at the same time line up for additional computer training.
  • Recommend that they get help from family members or friends at home.
  • Spend minimal time assisting with technical matters.
  • However, through your “toolbox” on your website, you may add clear directions, reference tutorials, provide technical suggestions. Such will minimize the number of problems you have to repeat and repeat. Rule: if two students ask about the same issue, provide the answer on your toolkit page.

Do they have learning difficulties?

  • In spite of strict entrance requirements, from time to time students come into the program unprepared to do graduate work.
  • Students must maintain a B average.
  • If a student is unprepared but an instructor takes pity and gives the student a B or better, the problem is passed on to the next instructor. Students should be encouraged to utilize their support resources such as the King Library liaison, for research help, writing tutor appointments for help with writing papers, and the Technology Help Resource Center for technology issues. An extensive variety of time management and study skills resources are available on the Canvas Advising Portal’s modules, under Student Success Resources: Student and Faculty Tips and Workshops Recordings.
  • If a student has some type of disability certified by the Accessible Education Center, you have an obligation to make provision for that student’s success without lowering the standards for the class. See information on the Accessible Education Center.
  • Realizing a student’s difficulties but seeing potential presents a challenge to the instructor who is pulled between reaching out and spending a great deal of effort to lift the student or taking a more hard-line approach and just expecting a high level of performance. There is no perfect way to handle this. A student with a deprived background but with a high work ethic is easier to help than a student with high expectations but poor work habits.

Do students have problems keeping up?

  • Some students try to take too many classes and should be counseled to drop back to a reasonable load.
  • Personal problems happen. Some will request an incomplete. REMEMBER, for every incomplete you grant, that student will have to track you down to submit assignments and have you submit a change of grade form.
  • Discuss with the person who hired you any serious student personal problems that have major consequences. There may be a solution which you as a distance or part time faculty may not be aware of. We want every student to succeed wherever possible.
  • It is wise to check up on each student’s progress about a third of the way through the semester. Expressing concern for those who are not on discussion boards or have not turned in assignments on time, etc. can often help the student make major decisions that must be confronted.

Do students become disruptive?

  • Have a conversation with the person who hired you. Some insight might be forthcoming.
  • Sometimes we make mistakes as instructors. Admitting and correcting them immediately is often the best way to deal with a situation. Controversy is a two-way street.
  • If students are giving you a loud signal that they are unhappy, you should consider changing your teaching strategies. The University provides assistance to teachers who want to build better teaching competence. Talk to the person who hired you about enrolling in various short courses. Every part-time or untenured faculty member has a mentor assigned from the senior faculty. Contact this person for advice.
  • The University has an ombudsman available for serious cases.
  • Very occasionally, traumatic things happen in class where immediate help is needed. If on campus, know where to contact campus police immediately. If online, seek help from the school director. The SJSU Behavioral Crisis Intervention Team is available at 408-924-6339. The SJSU Red Folder has resources for students in distress.