Great Student Expectations: A Guide for Faculty

Students come to courses with certain baseline expectations of faculty. Chief among these according to Blue Ridge Community College are:

  • Providing opportunities to learn
  • Acting with professionalism
  • Grading fairly and returning work promptly
  • Being accessible to students
  • Communicating in a timely and professional manner

At the community college level, we must also be respectful of students’ time, resources and life outside of the college. This balancing act is a challenge for many instructors who struggle to cover material and meet course competencies while keeping workload and time commitment manageable for students. This is a lot to juggle!

Student expectations are expanding in ways that go beyond traditional teaching, advising and college staff roles. Faculty are expected to be classroom referees, counselors and hand-holders. Advisors are expected to solve problems that reside outside the college environment.

Students may expect special treatment around due dates, grading, attendance, etc. What was once termed “timely communication” may now mean an immediate response regarding grading, emails and phone conversations. Students may make appointments to meet outside of office hours and then not show up. These annoyances may be par for the course, but they can absorb instructor time, erode enthusiasm and create a student culture that distracts from teaching.

While we forced to navigate complex issues when they arise, part of the solution may be in prevention. This starts on day one of the course with a carefully written syllabus and an explanation of what students can expect of the instructor.

The syllabus should include information about:

  • Course policies reading class work, attendance and late submissions
  • The instructor’s expectations of students
  • What the student can expect of the faculty, such as fairness in grading, office hours, communication preferences

When situations arise, it is much easier to go back to the syllabus and remind students of the rules of the class and the role of faculty and students. To be most effective:

  1. Be consistent in enforcement of rules
  2. Include class policies in the explain policies to students if they are uncertain what you intend
  3. Grade blindly
  4. Include communication preferences and guidelines in the syllabus and your general response time
  5. Communicate clearly and keep copies of emails
  6. Never react in anger and frustration

Sandy Chapman at Colorado State University recognizes that each semester there is often a student who crosses the invisible boundary in ways that can hinder learning, monopolize faculty time and energy, and create drama. Look at her helpful advice for staying on point and sane.  Strategies for Setting Student/Instructor Boundaries

Learn more about Email Boundaries and expectations from Nate Kreuter.

The article Connecting with Students While Maintaining Ethical Boundaries unpacks “professionalism” in a world of social media, power dynamics and much more.

The article Faculty Focus, Students Place a Premium on Faculty Who Show They Care, discusses the value of limits and carefully set boundaries.

Resources at the T & L site for:






Embrace Civility in the Classroom

Teaching is a demanding task. Challenges arise at every turn, which makes it an engaging and dynamic occupation. In addition to worrying about content and learning in our classrooms, we also need to be concerned with classroom dynamics and the erosion of civility. When it comes to promoting classroom etiquette and respect, instructors need to lead by example, set expectations and take action when needed. It starts with us and ends with us–so let’s see how to make a difference.

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. ~Dalai Lama

More and more instructors are being called on to promote civility and classroom etiquette. Schroeder and Robertson’s article, Civility in the College Classroom, provides a glimpse into the problem of hostility, disrespect and aggression that is occurring in classrooms across the nation.  It is not a reflection of the instructor, the course or students in general. Remember this problem is coming into our classrooms and college campuses from the outside world. Without interventions, the problem can easily get out of hand. While there are often college-level policies and procedures to help, the role of the instructor cannot be understated. Here are some steps that can communicate expectations for student conduct:

Promoting Respect and Civility in the Classroom from the Academy of Art University

  1. Lead by example and model the behaviors you want to see by responding to students in appropriate ways. This means acknowledging really good work and comments from students, encouraging and modeling honest and tactful communication, and letting students know when they have been inappropriate. If a teacher ignores inappropriate comments, students may think the teacher is condoning them, or doesn’t care about students.
  2. Plan, in advance, ways you will address issues of incivility. A timely response is important, and if you have thought the situation and response through, you will be able to respond more effectively. It is often helpful to come up with a hierarchy of responses to potential situations. For example, if a student is talking over you, first make eye contact, and then move near the student and pause, before speaking to him or her in private.
  3. Keep communication open. Make a point to greet your students by name as they come into class. Try to seize on other opportunities to personally connect with all of your students, giving each student equal attention and a sense of value.
  4. Foster unity and inclusion through pair work, group work, and “roundtable” discussion that promotes the mutually respectful sharing of ideas and responsibilities.
  5. Respect students’ privacy and dignity. Never post grades that display the students’ names—only ID numbers. Even when using ID numbers, rearrange the order in which students are listed so that it’s not easily recognizable to others.
  6. Respect students as individuals, taking into account a student’s learning style, strengths, back-ground, and demands on time. This can be done without compromising the high performance standards you have set.

Discussions in online classes require ground rules and clear expectations—make it part of your class in ways that are positive and unambiguous. In the article, Netiquette: Make it Part of Your Syllabus, Mintu-Wimsatt, Kernek and Lozada provide suggestions for the syllabus and wording of rules of engagement in online classes.

Netiquette – Often-Overlooked Policy from Rutger’s may help you craft your own netiquette policy to help prevent issues in online classes

How to communicate and participate in online classes 

University of Missouri: Show me Respect, The Civility Toolkit is chock-full of resources, ideas and commentary on the need for campus and classroom interventions. This clearinghouse of resources has something for every instructor.

In Praise of Encouragement

There is a fundamental difference between praise and encouragement. This is a distinction to keep in mind as we wrap up the semester and provide students with feedback on their learning. We want our students to reflect on their learning in ways that move them toward their next goal—we need to do that, too.

We live in a “great job” world where students have become accustomed to hearing praise. It is, to some people’s thinking, cheap and easy to handout. Encouragement, on the other hand, takes more time and effort to dole out. The results of praise and those of encouragement differ greatly. Praise can signal that the job is over and we can sit back and admire the results. Encouragement lets us know that we are still working and that the job is not finished.

Think about your student as a runner. If you yell out “Well done” before the end of the race, the runner might get the idea that s/he is done and can rest. But, if you yell “Keep it up—your getting there”, the runner is bolstered by the support and keeps moving.

Encouragement can have the effect of keeping a desired behavior going. That can be attending class, being active in discussions or submitting work on time. It also communicates expectations, standards and models behavior for others.

Here are some resources to get you started:




Working with Student Veterans: Moving toward Success!

It is not just military service that sets student veterans apart from their classmates. According to a 2013 American Council on Education report, they are often the first members of their family to attend college and are often about a decade older than other students. They tend to study harder and are driven to succeed, but feel less engaged and connected to campus life.

The good news in this study is that many veterans feel supported by their institutions. This support is found at every level—from the financial aid process and registration and the classroom. As faculty and staff, we need to find ways to ensure that veterans have the tools and skills they need to walk their educational path. But, there are challenges as you will read in this article from  Misconceptions about veterans abound, do a reality check at NEA Ten Things You Should Know about Working with Today’s Student Veterans.

Cultivating a sense of belonging on campus can be helpful. So, how might we get started?

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask if a student in interested in sharing his/her experiences rather than singling someone out in class discussions
  • If a student veteran seems to be struggling, talk with him or her
  • Know the resources that are available, this includes VetNet, but also the services that are available to all GCC students, both traditional and online
  • Remember that sometimes active duty students need flexibility with due dates—be accommodating when possible
  • Introduce them to organizations and activities on campus. Review tips for Getting Student Veterans off the Sidelines for some ideas
  • Capitalize on each veteran’s strength and determination to help reach educational goals

The VetNet resource center is a must-stop for veterans on campus—it is the place to get certified for educational benefits, meet other vets and find support for challenges. Advisors can learn how to meet the needs of this population from the NACADA: Advising Student Veterans.

Perhaps one of the best all around sites for learning about student veterans is the American Council on Education: Supporting Student Veterans. The articles and resources here are directed at all members of the educational community. You will find information on helping make the transition from soldier to student and much more.




Facing Mid-semester Doldrums with new Ideas

At the mid-semester point, we can start to see and feel fatigue setting in for both our students and ourselves. Finding that spark of creativity and enthusiasm can bring our classes to life and give us the energy to finish the semester as strong as we began. It can be as simple as new discussion starters, innovative ways to structure assignments or useful encouragement for students.

Working from the experience and practice of other faculty is often helpful. The Center for Teaching and Learning at UNC Charlotte has compiled an impressive list of Best Practices in College Teaching that looks at the kinds of challenges we all face.

  • The Thoughtful Questions section is full of stimulating one-liners for those times when there is a lag in the discussion. These can also be used for critical thinking about course material and concepts.
  • Use the Rewarding Learner Participation section to help move discussions forward in ways that simple praise doesn’t often do.

This is just a fraction of what this link has to offer!

You are sure to find your own favorite new ideas to try. Our challenge to you is try one new idea during your next class. Write it into your lesson plan for the day. Then chose another and another….

Mental Health Issues in College Students

As professors and educational professionals, we are expected to be experts in our discipline, but may lack the skills and knowledge to help students who struggle with mental and emotional health issues. This is not a new concern, but studies show that the number of college students with both diagnosed and undiagnosed mental illness is increasing. Mental Health Awareness Week (Oct 5-11) at GCC has raised our consciousness of the issue and stimulated discussion about meeting the needs of all our students.

In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled, A Serious Illness or an Excuse? Looking at the issue of mental health and college students by Andrea Petersen This article highlights some of the common challenges for both students and faculty as they try to navigate these often stormy waters. Take a few minutes to read this article– you will gain a fresh perspective on what it is to be a student who is struggling.

If you think mental health issues are isolated or overstated, look through the National Alliance on Mental Health’s report, College Students Speak, A Survey Report on Mental Health. In essence, this organization has found a significant demonstrated need for support for college students face a variety of mental health issues such as depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety and PTSD. The report includes a section on what students should know and what faculty & support staff need to know.

While it might be somewhat easier to identify students who are struggling when we see them in person and work face-to-face, online students are often a different story. In Identifying and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Online Students in Higher Education, Bonny Barr provides some common clues that students may need extra support. Just as valuable as her insights and research are, the links she provides at the conclusion of the article to mental health resources are ones to bookmark. Keep in mind that resources are available for online GCC students, just as they are for traditional students. Think about adding a link to the GCC Wellness Center to your online class.

Here at GCC, many faculty and staff have worked with students who are dealing with mental health issues in our classrooms and offices. Don’t go it alone.  There are specific resources to help students create paths to learning and being a part of the GCC community.


Identifying Students who are Struggling and Taking Action

In the first few weeks of the semester, we are often preoccupied learning student names, creating course materials and getting back into the swing of a busy teaching schedule. This is also a time to be on the lookout for students who might struggle in your course.

Some of the early signs are:

  • Falling asleep
  • Arriving late or not at all
  • Making rude or mean remarks toward you or a classmate
  • Not completing work
  • —and the list goes on

The temptation to ignore some of these behaviors is strong, but there are plenty of reasons to get involved… and to do it sooner rather than later. An intervention does not need to be a full-on confrontation, but merely making the student aware that his or her behavior is affecting others.  Sometimes students do not understand the social norms of a college classroom or perhaps they need to have rules and expectations clarified.

If you are facing challenges, remember that you are not alone and that there are resources to help. Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D. offers tips for dealing with and preventing many common classroom/student issues

Click here for an 8-step plan for dealing with disruptive students.

Perhaps somewhat more rare, but sadly increasingly common, is to have an emotionally troubled student in class. These tips help you to recognize these students and take appropriate action.

Dealing with disruptive students can be frustrating and can sometimes leave you feeling drained. Keep in mind that this is not an issue reserved for new faculty, at some point all faculty experience these challenges. Seek the support of your colleagues, department chair and experienced faculty.

The Flipped Classroom: What it is, how to do it and what to expect

The Flipped Classroom is a teaching approach that moves lectures outside of the classroom to allow classroom time to be spent in more dynamic learning activities. Before arriving to class, students often watch recorded video lectures and read through lecture materials, complete a basic assessment to ensure they have understood basic concepts. They then arrive in the classroom ready to engage with their peers in discussions and other student-centered learning activities.

Overview: Watch one instructors approach in her YouTube video

The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Cons

Flipping A Class: A How-to Guide for Beginners

This teaching strategy seems to be gaining momentum because it gets results. Shaking up tried and true teaching methods can be controversial and this approach is not for everyone, but for some teachers and students, it is breathing new life into the learning experience. Read more from the NYTimes on the Flipped Classroom.


Building Your Online Class

Pedagogy for Online Instruction

Online learning is a significantly different experience for both students and instructors. It is not a simple transfer of content and classroom activities to the virtual world. Instructors must consider how students will navigate content and engage with the learning process when that process is removed from its traditional setting.

According to West Virginia University’s Tips for Teaching Online, pedagogical changes must occur to make the online teaching/learning experience a positive one. Look for ways to adapt your face-to-face class and to ways to add new elements.

Whether you are new to online teaching or an experienced instructor, there are many common challenges related to course design.While it is impossible for students to have the same exact experience in an online class as they do in a face-to-face classroom, we can make the experience just as rewarding and satisfying using these tips for Humanizing Your Online Course.

Just as critical as pedagogy, is strong knowledge of your learning management system, Moodle and learning how to navigate this tool.

Other considerations when building your course might include the size and type of files you use. Remember that some students may have difficulty with large files or downloading depending on the strength of their connection. This can be a significant problem for students in rural areas. See the comments of GCC President Bob Pura and Chief Information Officer Michael Assaf in the Chronicle.

Helpful resources for online course creation:

11 Strategies for Managing Your Online Courses

Designing Online Courses: models-for-improvement

Five Common Pitfalls of Online Course Design from Faculty Focus

10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching

Report on Online Course Design13 Strategies for Faculty

Report on Online Course Quality

Balancing Online Course Workload

7 Assessment Challenges of Moving your Class online



Pedagogy and Andragogy

Pedagogy/Critical Pedagogy:

Many instructors seek strong pedagogical/theory-driven teaching and instructional approaches that show students are learning and that they can demonstrate the essential course objectives. Perhaps an additional goal is to create a culturally-responsive atmosphere for learners where they feel welcomed and included in decision making and the learning process as a whole.  Additionally, students need to understand the value of what they are learning and how it applies to their lives. The work of Paulo Freire is relevant toward this goal, but at the same time there are simple steps we can take in our classroom to promote cooperation and collaboration.


Adult learners are different than traditional college students—based on age, development, life stage, career and family. As a result, adult students sometimes feel isolated and distanced from their traditional-aged colleagues and the learning experience They need an instructional strategy that reflects their unique needs and goals. Student-centered andragogy (adult learning theory) offers a framework for individual growth and problem-solving through learning.

Core concepts of andragogy focus on learner interests, self-concept, prior experience, learning readiness, learning orientation and motivation. Adult learners bring a wealth of experiences related to learning, and have perceptions about their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. It is important for instructors to understand personal learning histories and student perceptions about how they learn best and what they want and need to learn. Andragogical principles make learning relevant and meaningful which stimulates student excitement, engagement and participation.  The result is a classroom where experiences of all learners are respected and diversity is valued. Knowledge and deeper understanding is developed through sharing and collaboration. Review the article  Motivating Students with Teaching Techniques that Establish Relevance, Promote Autonomy.

Principles of andragogy encourage students to embrace learning though goal exploration, peer and faculty collaboration, formulation of learning objectives and goal setting.  Instructors build trust and cooperation using specific teaching strategies that rely on consultation and participation with adult students. Andragogical principles can be adapted to any classroom, traditional or online. Andragogy focuses areas for student growth such as organization, time management, prioritization, study skills, self-evaluation, and communication and negotiation.

Andragogy Presentation

Principles of Adult Learning