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What do you do when disruptive members create a problem for instructors?

Posted on March 6th, 2012 by Anne Cardale, OLLI National Resource Center

Carol Stewart, OLLI at University of Arizona, Asks OLLI:

What do you do (in class and long-term) when disruptive members create a problem for instructors? It would be interesting to know what others have done.

4 Responses to “What do you do when disruptive members create a problem for instructors?”

  1. #1 by: Jim Bouchard

    At CSU Dominguez Hills there were several times that I recognized that a student might be disruptive in class. In each instance, the instructor happened to be a current faculty member or an emeritus faculty member, and I would make a point of speaking with the faculty member before class. Each professor engaged the potentially disruptive student in conversation prior to the class, and it worked out fine. Faculty members appear to have a great deal of experience with disruptive students!
    With regard to instructors who are either OLLI members or community experts, I had only one instance of a disruptive student that I recall. But that situation resolved itself before I had to take any action.

  2. #2 by: Millie Lynch

    We’ve had a couple instances with disruptive students in classes. In both cases, we mailed a letter to the member describing the behavior and the disruption it caused to the class. The member was reminded of one of our golden rules, stating in part that, “controversy is a great stimulus to learning but is only meaningful in an atmosphere of civility…” The member is also reminded that we expect them to abide by our rules. It the member cannot adhere to the rules, they are told that the issue will be brought to the Board of Directors for further review. The letter solved the problem in both cases.


  3. OLLI at SOU has just started working on this issue. One of our experienced instructors had a member in her class who started arguing with her about her topic. Even though she talked to him, she asked that I approach him to clarify. I did and he ended up dropping the class. His overall attitude was that he knew more than the instructor. I am also starting to experience some of our members who are showing signs of dimentia. One member talks while others are talking and doesn’t understand that it is disruptive. So far, we have been able to work with her but I expect that this behavior might get worse. I have talked to the University regarding their policy for disruptive behavior. Currently, we would just like to handle this on an individual basis. Great question!


  4. These are all good approaches, and I am glad this question has been raised so that we can share our collective experience. Fortunately, our members and instructors are, most of the time, very compatible and there are very few disruptive situations. To what has been said so far I would add that I ask Osher members who tell me about other Osher members behaviors if they are willing to talk directly with the other member and sometimes this works. I try to encourage nipping things in the bud and speaking directly, offendee to offender, if the situation is between two members, and if there is someone who is disrupting the entire class I speak to the instructor to see what help they may need and to work out an approach to resolve the disruption. Sometimes a situation/disruption can be, in itself, a learning experience. For example, we had an Osher member who was auditing a credit class and he thought a particular classroom discussion was offensive to the female undergraduate students and made his concern very loud and clear to the class and instructor. After the incident, the instructor alerted me and said no intervention on my part was needed, he just wanted me to be aware; the instructor added that after the Osher student left the classroom the undergrads stuck around to talk about what happened and there was a thoughtful discussion in which some of the students worked to better understand where this older adult might be coming from, so this was a learning experience for the undergrads.

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