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.

Stimulating Discussions

Let’s Discuss Class Discussions

Whether we teach online or in-person, we know the value that stimulating classroom discussions can have on student learning. It is an opportunity for students to practice concepts, get clarification and apply new ideas. Getting discussions started and maintaining momentum can be a challenge. We might also have a core group of students who are vocal and others who sit back and watch. Leading classroom discussions is a dynamic art–the challenges, tools and students are always changing.

Here are some common challenges faculty face in discussions with some helpful resources:

♦ Getting students off the stage:

We have to work constructively with these eager students who may intimidate others with their ideas and enthusiasm. We don’t want to shut he student down, but instead help channel their participation.

♦ Get students off the sidelines:

Students may be quiet in class for a variety of reasons–fear, lack of preparation, etc. Understanding the reason may help find an appropriate solution for moving the student forward.

♦ Writing useful and engaging discussion questions:

We might be able to have spontaneous discussions in class–especially for topics that engender passion. But, discussion questions which help students achieve course competencies can also be prepared in advance.

♦ A special note about online classes and the value of discussions:

Discussions take on a heightened level of importance in many online classes. Discussion activities can help students feel connected to their classmates and instructor. Students often report higher levels of engagement with the material and the course itself. Ultimately, these feelings may lead to greater motivation and course success. This short article from Jennifer Freeman at UT TeleCampus, Using Discussions in Online Courses: The Importance of Interactivity, gives online discussions their due and provides practical ideas instructors.



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….

Increasing Motivation: Let’s Go!

It has been a long winter—the cold and dark days affect motivation and commitment to academics. This is true for students and if we are honest, it is true for faculty and staff. At midpoint of the spring semester, there is a certain level of fatigue that needs to be addressed.

First, let’s tackle students:

For a theoretical orientation to motivation and science of motivating learners, look here.

Although this link is to the Geoscience Department at Carlton College, the information here about motivating students is applicable to any department and any population of students.  Take a look at how faculty behaviors can directly impact student motivation. You make a huge difference in your classroom!

Not to be outdone, Vanderbilt University examines the types of motivation students possess and how we can tap into these in ways that encourage success and GRIT when the going gets tough.

Now, let’s address the needs of faculty and staff. If you feel like your “get-up-and go” got up and went, then this link is for you:

Perhaps, there is a 12-step program for motivation, but maybe 7 steps are all you really need. Or maybe 8 steps are better.






True Grit: The Key to Success?

Like researchers, many of us who work with students often hypothesize about what it takes for students to be successful in college. Why and how do some students overcome adversity when others collapse under the weight of these challenges? And, perhaps more importantly, what can we do to foster the skills and resilience that college requires? Angela Lee Duckworth says it comes down to grit. Images of John Wayne may come to mind with good reason—true grit may be rare, but it is out there for us to discover and develop.

Ted Talk: Angela Lee Duckworth with a introduction to grit and what it means.

She has also written an excellent journal article on grit and the ability to reach long term goals.

Her work is so potentially important in education and our approach to student struggle that the Chronicle of Higher Education has focused on her work.

In Feb 2013, the Department of Education released a draft report on Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.

This report includes interesting strategies to foster a sense of stick-to-it-ness in our students and why it is deemed to be so important for creating students who have the ability to reach long term goals.

Explore ideas for your classroom here.



The New, Nonlinear Path Through College

The article entitled The New, Nonlinear Path Through College, provides us with a gentle reminder that many GCC students have tried or will try other educational opportunities. The path to a college degree is not as clear and simple as it once was—students have many choices and they often struggle to find the right fit. The danger is that many students start, but do not finish their degree. At GCC, it is critical to help prepare students for their futures through skill development and by creating confidence in their personal potential for success.

We must consider how we are helping students to enhance and develop skills in our courses, and also how we embrace their entry and in some cases, their re-entry. For adult students, using the principles of andragogy can make a significant difference in their comfort level and the value they place on prior learning (both formal and informal). Diverse voices must be heard in our classrooms and we must create a safe educational space for students with different perspectives and life philosophies. University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching has a wealth of information on building a respectful and dynamic classroom, and honoring the needs of diverse learners.

Making a personal connection with each student, whether our role is as advisor, support staff or faculty impacts how students feels about their GCC experience. The key is building rapport. Knowing one personal and positive thing about each student creates a starting point—it might be something about their family, work, a favorite hobby or sport. Building rapport and engaging students on this level that shows we care about them as individuals and learners, and that we value their commitment to GCC and the choice they have made to be a student here.



Moodle, FITS & Distance Education

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Distance Education

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  • Reusing existing Open Educational Resources (OER) can save significant time and effort by using educational materials that already exist. Search there extensive list of resources for materials for your courses and projects.

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