6. Communicating Higher Expectations


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Table of Contents for "Seven Principles Collection of TLT Ideas"

The sixth principle is "communicates high expectations.' "High expectations are important for everyone -- for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated." Expectations are communicated not only by what students hear you say but also by the nature of assignments. In what ways has technology been used in your courses or at your institution that, directly or indirectly, communicated high expectations to all your students?  If you have an idea you don't see here, and would like to share, please describe it in a few sentences and email it to Steve Ehrmann; let us know if we can also post your name and e-mail so readers can contact you.

Explaining Assessment Standards Can Communicate High Expectations (see also "4. Prompt Feedback")

  •  In my beginning language courses which are proficiency-based, the students are required to show they can communicate in the language and not just be able to conjugate verbs or memorize vocabulary for a test. In place of a final exam, I have the students created a website which serves as a kind of online biography in which they incorporate audio, video, image and text files to tell about themselves, their families, their interests, etc. They also include links to existing Spanish-language websites related to the themes they are talking about. This forces them to draw upon what they have learned throughout the course and to communicate it in a way that a written exam cannot.

  • The weekly online discussion boards are graded. I give feedback as to what is an outstanding response, and what is not (such as "I agree with what Joe said." I'm able to follow up with posts - even the outstanding ones, with additional questions that other students can respond to - it depends the level of conversation.

Using Rubrics to Communicate High Expectations

  • A scoring rubric for every assignment, examined and discussed in class at the time the assignment is given as well as posted online for students to refer to anytime, is key to clear expectations.

  • Editor's note: Rubrics are especially important for assignments without a single "right answer" -- the kinds of projects that students often do with technology. For more information on what rubrics are, and how to use them, click here.  

Learning Contracts

  • Groups also have the opportunity to complete or begin their group learning contracts which are negotiated with the instructor for acceptable work over the semester time. Student buy-in to objectives and learning process, as well as the negotiation of the learning contract ensures that the expectation is held high. In fact, the learning products up to this point have exhibited the fact that the expectations set by the students themselves far exceed those that could be established personally by the instructor.  Editor's Note: The purpose of such contracts is both to make it more clear what the student is to do, and to achieve, and to create more of a sense of commitment in the course. Learning contracts take many forms. Sometimes all students in a course are given the same contract, while in other cases students (individually or in groups) design their own. Contracts may focus on outcomes, on the commitment to study, and/or on other elements of learning. Use a search engine with search terms such as "learning contract" and "example" to find a variety of types. 

Finding a Meaningful Audience can Communicate High Expectations

  • Students are informed that their completed projects will be posted on the Internet and utilized by local schools. In short, they know that the instructor will not tolerate shoddy work. They also want to go above and beyond my own expectations because they know that other people will see their web quests and virtual field trips.

  • Based on the premise that everyone likes to see their name in print, I use Web technologies and the lure of publishing on the Web to stimulate students to create authentic finished work.

  • The WebCT postings in particular have been useful in helping students develop their own voice as they post ideas for a group of peers but with the sense that what they post is being "broadcast" to a very public audience.

Real World Standards Can Communicate High Expectations, Especially If Articulated with Curriculum and Internal Assessment

  • We have implemented electronic Cisco curriculum endorsed by industry leader Cisco, and use official Microsoft curriculum in computer classes. Both set levels of industry standards expected of the students.

  • We have a web page where we put academic information for our students. Our Elementary Education Degree has specific outcomes that are aligned with the State Standards. This information is conveyed online. Students keep electronic portfolios that align with the standards.

  • Our chemistry courses use computer calculators in labs. The chemistry instructor has articulated all of our chemistry courses with the universities and aligned the technology with their requirements. This has meant an investment in new equipment and software for our chemistry labs.

Accountability for Getting the Materials

  • Posting materials online improves my ability to hold the students accountable (for receiving assignments, handouts, etc.)

Using Faculty-Student Contact (Principle #1) to Communicate High Expectations

  • The WebCT threaded discussions make clear the need for thoughtful work outside of class. My e-mail responses to questions students have studying for exams (which often are triggered by study guides I give them) communicate my expectations and allows me to clarify them.

Using Other Students to Communicate High Expectations

  • In his online, end-of-course survey, Prof. Tom Brinthaupt of Middle Tennessee State University asks students to say one positive thing and one negative thing about the course and instructor, aimed at students who will be taking this same course the next term.  He posts their responses online and discusses them with incoming students on the first day of the new term; at the end of the term they too can provide advice for the next set of students considering taking this course. Tom calls this approach "Realistic Course Preview" (RCP) and evaluation shows that students find these comments from their predecessors realistic and helpful. For more information on RCP, click here.  Or you can e-mail Tom at tbrintha@mtsu.edu.
  • One way in which technology facilitates this is that it is fairly simple to showcase what previous students have done and what classmates are currently working on by "publishing" their work on the Web (since most schools have servers for this purpose).

  • In my online courses I often post examples of previous students' work to give the current class an idea about expectations and what is possible. This seems to work much better than the usual classroom task of trying to communicate what to anticipate on a regular exam.

  • If the first person sets the stakes high for the rest, the professor has some assurance, other students will strive by sheer example and expectation the higher achieving students sets - it raises the bar for all. I find this often happens. I try to have postings visible to all students at the beginning of the course for this reason.

  • I've used the technology to allow students to communicate high expectations of each other. I'll post a query on the discussion site and I've noticed that when students seem to fumble or try to re-negotiate the materials, expectations, one student will often 'step in' to communicate a sense of increased expectation

  • Students are directed to websites where someone else’s work is displayed, and they can get an idea of the expectation for their work. In addition, they might have access to other student papers on a particular subject, where the criteria for the project/paper is closely matched with the product.

  • I sometimes post sample paper and exam essays and drafts of papers (and different quality exam responses) to help students learn what makes for a good paper or exam essay and what my expectations are.

Using Librarians to Communicate High Expectations

  • I teach a lot of first-year students, and I make sure that we spend a class period with a reference librarian who demonstrates that Google searches will not be sufficient for the research expected in my class--or in their courses in general. Assignments that clearly require the use of documents and human sources (interviews, correspondence, ethnography, etc.) help ween students away from the convenience of the Web and show them that respected sources are vetted by a scholarly community.

  • When [seniors] are assigned to write a paper in a course such as a capstone course, a session on bibliographic research is very helpful. Our reference librarian helps the students learn how to search and evaluate journals and other sources of information. This session definitely communicates high expectations.

Using Feedback to Establish High Expectations

  • Each student has a portfolio in which his or her goal and the progress are recorded. We have a weekly progress report given to each student via e-mail. When the goal is not met at a particular week, the instructor makes sure that the student knows about it, and the student and the instructor discuss the issue via e-mail - oftentimes over the weekend.

If Technology Enables Students to do More, Expectations Can Be Increased

  • The Internet has increased the availability of research resources, so I would ask for 3-5 sources rather than 1-2 for a report. This makes checking citations or lack of rather more difficult though.

  • Since they are doing more lab work independently, I hope they develop greater motivation for asking questions and seeking out answers.

Use Materials to Communicate High Expectations

  • I think the wonderful web sites I see around campus are beneficial to show quality and high standards. Many faculty include a resume on the site so students can read about their professor's accomplishments.  

  • I provide students with copies of the lecture notes and course text (that I wrote) and .AVI (video) files (that I developed and narrate) on CD and over the web. I believe that by demonstrating my own level of preparation in a highly visible way, I communicate my expectation for equally high levels of preparation and performance from my students

  • We can easily access supplemental material to offer/entice students.

  • Technology allows me to bring into my teaching more and richer material. This helps to raise expectations.

Using Equipment and Infrastructure to Communicate High Expectations

  • I believe our technology initiative (digital portfolio for all students, laptops for all students, Blackboard available for all courses) as well as the support our institution gives to these initiatives reflects the high expectations we have for all of our students.

High Expectations Apply To Process as Well as Outcomes

  • The syllabus outlines what is expected of the learner for participation, online attendance, and online etiquette.

  • Require students to demonstrate command of the technology through questions that are intricate and demanding.

  • Professional-looking , teacher-generated music worksheets models the standard of neat music notation expected .

  • First and foremost, all written homework assignments are expected to be typed. Students no longer have the excuse of not having access to a computer to word process. Beyond this expectation, again, often students are required to access information from the internet and be critical consumers of that information. For my research group, they are expected be able to use PowerPoint presentation for presentation of their findings at research conventions.

  • We have several documents that the students must download and print prior to coming to class. If the student forgets, the students doesn't get the assignment. If the student misses the online quiz at the beginning of class, there are no make-ups available. The student must come to class early enough to be booted up, hooked to the network, and ready when the class begins and must have all needed paperwork printed and ready to go for the day.

For Distance Education, Setting Expectations in Orientation Meetings

  • High expectations and clearly expressed expectations are important in online courses. Students come to a mandatory initial meeting "orientation" where the courseware package is explained, content is explored and groups formed. Groups also have the opportunity to complete or begin their group learning contracts which are negotiated with the instructor for acceptable work over the semester time. During this meeting a brochure, titled "Tips to Online Success and Satisfaction" is shared with students. A detailed syllabus also assists in the expression of expectations. The objectives which are attainable but often extensive and challenging also maintain high expectations.

Please send your suggestions, especially your TLT ideas, to Steve Ehrmann (ehrmann @ tltgroup.org).

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