Don’t Spread Panic in an Online Class

All of us are aware of the danger of yelling “FIRE!” in an auditorium full of people. Most of us would never do that.

However, most of us aren’t aware that posting panicky, frightening messages in a class forum is just as dangerous. All it takes is for one student to post such a message in a forum to spread confusion and fear through the entire class. Thus, be very careful when posting.

For example, if you’re confused about how to do an activity and post incorrect information or your frustration in the forums, many will panic and believe that they, too, must be confused. Once the panic begins, it will spread like wild fire and everyone will be confused.

In the vast majority of cases, the poster who is causing the panic has not been keeping up with the readings and is devoting little or no time to this class. S/he is deliberately creating fear and panic by posting misinformation. In discussion forums, they’re called trolls. They usually drop out or disappear after the first week or two of classes.

Unfortunately, we cannot stop these irresponsible posters. However, we can minimize the damage they cause by not panicking. Don’t panic! Just remember that if you begin to yell “FIRE!” too, you not only become part of the problem but you escalate it.

Remain calm and don’t reply to or comment on the panicky post. You must trust your own interpretation of what’s expected in the various activities that make up this course. Don’t succumb to self-doubt just because some in class are panicking. Don’t send email to me asking if the panicky post is correct. Assume that if you do, everyone else will, too, and the result is an overwhelming flood of email in my box.

Learn to judge the poster. First, a responsible student won’t post a message that might incite panic. S/he will first check with me, via private email, to see if he can’t get clarification. If there’s a problem. I’ll quickly fix it and, if necessary, send an announcement to the entire class. Second, if the poster is one who asks questions about activities that are clearly explained in class schedules, guidelines, posts, etc., assume that he is not making an effort to do the readings and is expecting the rest of us to do it for him. When this student says he is confused or posts misinformation, you’ll know why and won’t fall for his ploy. Finally, judge the poster by his previous posts: Do you get an impression of a diligent, thoughtful, rational, responsible student? If not, then disregard his posts as misinformation.

Look out for trolls — for posters who are intent on creating chaos by posting misinformation or messages designed to spread fear and panic. Don’t respond to them and, more importantly, don’t become their unwitting accomplice by spreading the panic. Remain calm and trust your own ability to understand information in this course. And when you encounter a possible problem, email me privately.

I will deal with irresponsible posts and posters. My first response is usually to ask them to carefully reread the material or guidelines that they find confusing. If they’re emotional and upset, I’ll ask them to calm down. In most cases, this is all that’s needed, and the person doesn’t do it again.

However, if the problem persists, I’ll take stricter measures to make sure that the problem stops.

If you encounter a troll or irresponsible poster, please email me as soon as possible and let me deal with him/her.

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