managing student expectations
Most students begin college, the academic year, and new courses motivated and optimistic. Many first-year students expect to do well because they were successful in high school. Some are right, but others will only find similar success if they work much harder than they did in high school. Yet most start out expending the same level of effort. They will talk with their classmates and convince each other that an exam covering three chapters can’t be that hard, so they put off studying and then “look over” the chapters the night before— happily dealing with any and all interruptions and distractions.
What course characteristics “satisfy” adult students? What expectations do they have for their courses? These questions are important because more and more adults now attend higher education, and many are participating in programs designed especially for them.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s week 12 of a 15-week-semester and a student shows up during office hours asking, begging, for some way that he can raise his grade. He needs a B, he says, or he could lose his scholarship.
There is a lot to cover on the first day of class. You establish procedures and convey expectations. You review the syllabus and, if you’re teaching a lab, safety protocol. You also spend some time teaching some material. While you might not make an assignment on the first day, you still should use some time on the first day to talk about your expectations for students’ work and how you assign grades.
“It is a story replicated in many history classrooms during the semester. Students have once again done poorly on an assignment or exam. Their essays are the sites of massive, undifferentiated data dumps. They have paraphrased primary sources instead of analyzing them, ignored argumentation, confused past and present, and failed completely to grasp the ‘otherness’ of a different era.” (p. 1211)
Some years back The Teaching Professor featured an article highlighting Mano Singham’s wonderful piece describing how he moved away from a very authoritarian, rule-centered syllabus (reference below). It’s one of my very favorite articles—I reference it regularly in presentations, and it appears on almost every bibliography I distribute.