Instructor Perceptions of Student Incivility in the Online Undergraduate Science Classroom

Anna Abraham, Carly Busch, Sara Brownell, Katelyn Cooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Student incivility, defined as a behavior perceived by the instructor or other students to be disrespectful and/or disruptive to the overall learning environment, can negatively impact student learning and instructors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to an online teaching format created a unique environment for undergraduate incivility to take place. Further, student incivility has historically been disproportionately experienced by instructors of particular demographic groups, including women and People of Color, but it is currently unknown whether these demographic differences exist in the online environment. In this study, we designed a survey based on previous literature to measure instructor perceptions of student incivility during the COVID-19 pandemic. We surveyed 283 science instructors from a random subset of research-intensive institutions, Masters-granting institutions, primarily undergraduate institutions, and community colleges who taught undergraduate courses with synchronous online components in the fall 2020 semester about their experiences with student incivility. Using binary logistic regression and open-coding to analyze our data, we found that over half of instructors surveyed reported experiencing student incivility during fall 2020, with women being significantly more likely to report student incivility than men (Figure 1). Compared to white instructors, Instructors of Color were significantly more likely to report an increase in student incivility in fall 2020 compared to teaching the same course in previous semesters (Figure 1). The most common uncivil behaviors reported by instructors were requests to change student grades, sleeping in class, and excessively communicating with the instructor outside of class. When discussing how they handled experiences of student incivility, over half of instructors reported being irritated or annoyed as a consequence and tolerating or ignoring the behavior as a coping strategy, which could have detrimental effects on the learning environment for all students. This work indicates that student incivility exists in the online synchronous learning environment and that the negative impacts of student incivility are not distributed equally among all instructors, presenting additional burdens for women and Instructors of Color.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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