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Two students sit at their desks with notebooks open.

Professors can share expectations and classroom guidance with students to help set proper behaviors before the start of the academic term.

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Back-to-school season brings a new wave of students to college campuses each fall, many of them unaware of higher education’s hidden curriculum.

Professors often find themselves educating students not just on course material but also on proper behaviors in a college setting, how to email their professors and how to dispute a grade.

Inside Higher Ed compiled some considerations for faculty members looking to address student expectations at the start of the term in clear and helpful ways.

Why set expectations? Expectations provide a basis for a safe and effective learning environment and can reduce instances of problem behavior, according to guidance for educators from Lehigh University’s College of Education. They can also hold students accountable for their behavior, and expectations outlined in the syllabus can serve as a contract when needed, according to Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation.

Setting expectations also gives professors a way to set an equitable baseline for the start of the term.

Some confused learners may be first-generation students who are unfamiliar with the various unwritten rules of higher education. Others may be younger students coming out of a disrupted high school experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others still could be posttraditional students returning to an educational setting years after their last degree.

How to: Professors looking to set learning expectations should consider the following actions:

  • Reference university expectations. Class standards that mesh with larger institutional policies create solidarity in procedures, according to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Teaching and Learning Innovation division.
  • Act early. Expectations should begin at the start of the term, to provide continuity, and should be referred to when addressing incivility, according to Cornell teaching experts.
  • Apply on all levels. Classroom expectations should extend beyond individual students in the course, but also in group settings. Faculty members can encourage each group to set expectations to mitigate problems.
  • Take student feedback. Students can provide insight into their ideal working environment and contribute to establishing expectations for the term.

Lehigh education professors developed a classroom expectations matrix example for faculty looking for a place to start.

Attitude and conduct: Professors can set expectations for student behavior and interactions.

  • Defining organization. Poor course organization can be a barrier to students’ academic success, particularly for online courses. Professors can help clear up the confusion by establishing why the class format is as follows, according to Northwestern University guidance for instructors.
  • Ideal communication. With today’s technology comes a large swath of communication methods, and students can be unaware of the proper channels for talking to professors. Faculty members should share any preferences and a time frame for when students can expect a response (for example, within two business days, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays).
  • Grading and submissions. Most student disputes come from grading policies or assignment submissions. Professors should set policies for how to turn in work and request extra credit or revisions to grading. Such policies should remain in place and be followed throughout the term.

Expecting the unexpected: Sometimes professors want to get ahead of disruptive or rude behaviors in their classes. Lehigh’s College of Education, however, encourages educators to frame expectations as positive and specific. Rather than asking students to “be polite” in class, professors can request “Students raise their hand prior to speaking and wait to be called on.”

Students may also not read all contents in the syllabus, so professors can consider posting expectations as announcements in the LMS or creating student learning contracts or other assignments.

Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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