Sunday, April 11, 2021

Great expectations and how to manage them

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Isn't amazing that some people always misunderstand your most carefully planned and explained activities? What seems crystal clear in your head seems unclear and messy to others. Often it boils down to assumptions and expectations that are not clearly defined. Each student and teacher enters a course with their own preconceptions and assumptions of what they can expect and what is expected of them. It is so easy to think of students as a collective instead of a diverse group of individuals thrown together by chance in your particular course. Their expectations have been formed by previous courses and teachers and it is natural that they expect your course to be similar to the course they took last term. Much has been written about the difficulties of getting students to turn on their cameras in meetings or of students dropping out when group work starts but often it is because they don't see the activity as meaningful. Why is the group work important and why do they need to turn on their cameras? Too often we simply assume that this is obvious. The start of each course is therefore a renegotiation of how we approach the challenges ahead of us. The more explicit this negotiation the greater the likelihood of success. 

This is one of the themes in an article in E-learn magazine by Tom LangstonEngaging Students: An Approach to Solving the Zoom Conundrum. He describes the importance of each class negotiating a code of conduct that isn't simply a case of the students agreeing to the teachers expectations but reaching a mutually acceptable framework. It's also about addressing students' expectations of each other.

When you start teaching a class, it can be easy to highlight who you are and what you might intend to cover over the course of the module. It might also be less often that you explicitly tell the students what you are expecting from them. Even if you do, do they explicitly agree to your “demands” on them? This is where a conversation can help shape what is to come throughout the entire teaching block. If you are explicit about your standards and why you approach things the way you do, there can be no recourse from the students about why they have not held up their part of the agreement. Or you to yours.

Managing expectations is just as relevant on campus as online, though the mismatches are more pronounced in online courses. Another dimension that adds to the expectation mismatch is the increasing diversity of students from traditional young campus students to older lifelong learners with work and families to deal with. Mix in cultural diversity and you have a myriad of expectations and potential for misunderstanding. In today's multi-layered university it is unwise to assume. There is no one magic formula but a constant dialogue and negotiation, offering students a variety of spaces for interaction and collaboration.


  1. My statement, Students’ Approaches to Learning: