Studies have shown that students expect good communication from their teachers and that meeting or exceeding students’ expectations of the instructor’s communication is associated with increased affective learning for students (Gigliotti, 1993). It has also been noted that teaching is often treated as a unidirectional activity, when in reality, both students and the instructor contribute to the communication process (Frymier & Weser, 2001). Knowing this, it is important to keep in mind the predispositions that students may enter your classroom with. Consider the multiple barriers to listening that your students may be experiencing while you communicate. These barriers may include students who are focusing on their personal agendas, experiencing information overload, being distracted by emotional and external noise, and experiencing physical difficulties (Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo).
Considering that there are barriers to listening, it is important to acknowledge that there are also barriers to effective communication. These can include lack of clarity, using stereotypes and generalizations, jumping to conclusions, dysfunctional responses (such as ignoring questions or interrupting), and lack of a self-awareness of your own style (such as shyness or difficulty with being assertive) (Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo).
Keeping in mind these barriers to communication and listening, it is important to consider what expectations are important to communicate and the method in which we do so.
Creating Your Plan
When putting your expectations and communication plan in place, consider providing information on the following:
- Course structure
- Attendance policies
- Late policies
- Your preferred methods of contacting you
- Participation expectations (such as group sessions, discussion boards, etc.)
- Assignment goals, directions and how to submit instructions.
- Grading schemes
For your expectations to be understood and received well by your students, there are several guidelines that your communication can follow. If your communication is clear, understandable, timely, consistent, and repetitive, you will find that many of your students will be able to comprehend information in an effective manner or ask precise questions when confused.
Below are some details on how to best use these principles of communication when managing your class.
- Your messaging needs to be clear and to the point.
- To allow for your expectations to be heard, it is best to state them simply (in writing and verbally) to allow students to comprehend them. If you mix in a lot of other information with your expectations, students will likely become overwhelmed, and the information will easily be forgotten.
- Use your syllabus or Teaching & Learning Plan (TLP) where you can state the expectations in bullet points. Students can refer to them easily and use them as a checklist as they go through the term.
- One important barrier to consider is information overload, especially at the beginning of term. Creating this list of expectations as a separate document or section of the TLP allows students to reference back when they may be better prepared to learn and absorb the information.
Studies have found positive correlations between students understanding course and instructor expectations and cognitive learning throughout the course (Frymier & Weser, 2001). Having reasonable and high expectations allows for professionalism in your course. Explaining why these expectations exist creates a better understanding and respect for these expectations with students increasing the likelihood the expectations will be met (Kinville, 2019).
Ensuring that not only are the expectations understandable in reasoning, but also presented in a way that is understandable for students is key. Remember to write and communicate to your audience.
It has been found that students are 50% more likely to respond to emails that have a student-centered message (EAB, 2021). Keep this in mind with how you word and how you write your expectations for students.
Also, reducing multisyllabic words, a passive voice, and jargon will increase the understandability of your message as well.
- As much as you can, lay out your expectations from the first lecture and the course TLP, the better.
- By delivering the message early on, students can be ready to prepare themselves to make a semester plan and begin to lay out their needs and deadlines for the term.
Studies report that students with an instructor who verbally communicates expectations immediately at the beginning of the term are more likely to be motivated to study (Frymier A. B., 1993).
- Early communication of the expectations will allow students to better prepare for their courses. It allows students to perhaps see where they may struggle in the course and reach out to support systems in place for assistance (for example, requesting a peer tutor for the course).
- For students with accommodations, they often have contact with their Accessibility Consultant early in the term, and therefore they will be able to go through that information with the consultant in order prepare for how to manage the expectations using their accommodations.
Changing dates and expectations creates challenges for many students, and will inevitably create stress on yourself when expectations are not met. Although it’s always nice when flexibility is considered by a professor, often the changing of due dates can create confusion for students. Your expectations need to be reasonable and equally applied. Doing so means that you can rely on your communicated expectations and not your own opinion later in the term when making judgement calls for students (Kinville, 2019).
For students registered with your school’s accessibility/disability office who have been granted an accommodation plan, it’s reasonable to consider that exceptions may need to be made for some of the expectations that you’ve laid out. In these instances, don’t fear that your credibility is being tarnished in your expectations, but instead that you are showing understanding for students’ right to accommodations.
Even if you feel that you are being redundant, it is good to communicate your expectations to students in a variety of different methods to ensure that everyone can absorb the information and the expectations.
Although we discussed the importance of the immediacy in the communication of expectations, it’s important to remember that not all students find this to be beneficial. Repetition is necessary for those who may not have been ready to absorb the information before.
Consider that there are several types of learners in your course. Some students prefer to learn actively and interactively, others prefer facts or visual forms of information, and others learn from written and spoken explanations. As you will likely not know which type of students you have in your course—even more so for online courses—it is important to create multiple methods of communication of your expectations (Mupinga, Nora, & Carole, 2006).
- Considering that there are multiple barriers to learning and understanding expectations, it’s important for instructors to lay out their expectations early on in their course.
- The importance of having clear expectations is well documented to be positively correlated with students’ positive outcomes in a course.
- Communicating expectations in a clear, understandable, timely, consistent, and repetitive manner will help to manage your students’ questions and confusion throughout the term, thus reducing your stress and creating time for you to focus on the more important aspects of the course.
Although this is an important topic, remember we will not always get it right the first time. Take time to learn from every time you hear a student say, “But I thought you meant this,” to help you increase your effectiveness in communication in the future (Kinville, 2019).