Close up on woman holding her phone in her hands above a blanket across her lap
HealthNovember 23, 2020

Managing civility in an online environment

By: Lindy Mitchell, MSN, RN
The transition to an online environment for classes has been very challenging for students and faculty alike. During this transition students struggling with mental health diagnoses have had an even harder time than some of their classmates.

The lack of social interaction and being trapped in their homes has led to an increase in their anxiety and depression. These students are particularly vulnerable when there is incivility in the classroom, this rings true whether it be the faculty or their fellow students that are driving the incivility.

Incivility has been identified in the literature and by professional nursing organizations (American Nurses Association, 2019). Incivility can take many forms; eye-rolling, exclusion from group texts, exclusion from study groups, bullying in private chats, and in social media, as just a few examples. Incivility can be directed at both students and faculty. In my career, I have been the victim of bullying by students and witnessed students being uncivil with their peers.

Students are always under tremendous pressure in nursing school, and the online environment can exacerbate this stress. When the students are treated poorly by their classmates, whether it be overt or covert statements these students may feel apprehension in reaching out for support from the faculty. Civility is very important for faculty to assess during each interaction. There are tools that have been developed for the students and the faculty to use in their assessment of the situation. One of my favorite tools is the Clark Civility Index (Clark, 2013). This tool has the student ranking and a faculty ranking. As faculty, when I am assessing my classroom and discover incivility, I imbed this tool into my lesson plan. This tool has 20 questions that the students rank on a Likert-Style rating scale. The students then will tally up their responses.

I have found that when this tool is used, and the students are able to anonymously give their responses they rank themselves much higher for civility than they rank the class as a whole. This leads to a lot of self-reflection on their role in the incivility. As faculty, I ask the students to reflect upon this and what solutions they can pose to solve the problem. I recognize it is my responsibility to create a safe environment for the student to learn in. I have also started working with other faculty to create classroom contracts that set up the rules and guidelines for my classroom. This allows the students to know what is expected from them starting at day one. I also periodically send out a Survey Monkey survey to ask for anonymous feedback to improve but also identify problems with the students knowing their anonymity is protected.

Incivility in the classroom should never occur. Students should know that they are in a safe environment to learn. However, even with this knowledge incivility can still be seen. By bringing this to the students’ attention I can redirect the students’ concerns and help them to solve their problems and to create coping mechanisms and identifying their triggers for success in the future. Some of the strategies that I implement in solving this problem are facilitating meetings between the parties where both can respectfully hear the other out. I also will disable the private chat as needed when this is brought to my attention. Not all students feel safe in talking directly to the other person that is making them feel vulnerable and I am respectful of that and as a faculty, I will make a private meeting with both students and ask for their point of view as well as posing questions on how a professional and nurse will handle these situations. When bringing the student’s future career into the conversation it opens them up for active and thoughtful discussion of what behavior is acceptable of the nurse.

When faculty address this elephant in the room, we break the cycle of bullying in nursing. When our students leave their education with the tools to manage conflict professionally, they enter nursing ready to break this cycle. I would love to hear your opinions and some of the solutions that you have used in your classrooms.

Lindy Mitchell, MSN, RN
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
  1. Anthony, M., Yastik, J., MacDonald, D. A., & Marshall, K. A. (2014). Development and Validation of a Tool to Measure Incivility in Clinical Nursing Education. Journal of Professional Nursing, 30 (1), 48–55.
  2. American Nurses Association. (2019). Reporting incidence of workplace violence. [pdf]. Retrieved from
  3. Clark, C.M. (2013). Creating and sustaining civility in nursing education. Lesson Plan Template © 2018 Assessment Technologies Institute, LLC Page 2 Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International Publishing
Lippincott® Nursing Education
Preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s nurses
Back To Top