The following excerpts are taken from Dr. Tomforde, Associate Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston.
Expectations in College Courses
In colleges and universities there are certain expectations of students in terms of both education and behavior.
Unfortunately, these expectations are usually not explicitly stated, and many students are unaware or unprepared for what is required of them.
In my opinion, these misunderstandings are one of the biggest obstacles to student success.
To make the details of these expectations more explicit, the following provides advice and information on various academic issues. Most of the information can be summarized in two maxims:
Some of this advice may seem like common sense, and some of the descriptions may seem a bit pedantic --- if that is the case for you, then that is good; it means you already have a good understanding of what is expected of you. However, if anything you read seems surprising or different from what you thought to be true, you should think more carefully about those issues.
- Take responsibility for your own learning; and
- Treat your professors and your classmates in a professional and respectful manner.
Your Responsibilities in Class
Part of the purpose of your education and the training you receive in college is to teach you to be an independent learner and thinker. When you receive a college diploma, it is expected that you have not only learned facts, but you have learned how to learn. In other words, you are able to ask questions, find resources to help you learn the answers, and teach yourself new things. The first step in doing this involves the following one idea:
"In college courses you are expected to take responsibility for your own learning."
In any class that you take in college, it is expected you will do the following.
Student Responsibilities in College Classes
- Read the syllabus and understand course policies. If there is anything is the syllabus you don't understand, ask about it. The syllabus is essentially a contract between the instructor and students explaining the course policies and detailing how your final grade will be determined.
- Keep track of dates for homework and exams. Do not rely on the professor to remind you of upcoming
deadlines. You may want to get a good calendar and put the due dates from all your classes on it.
- Come to class. Missing class should be an incredibly rare occurrence. In addition, do not come late to class, and do not leave early.
Students who regularly miss class almost always receive a failing grade. Remember the following quote by Woody Allen:
"Eighty percent of success is showing up." Finally, if you miss class, do not ask your professor for a copy of their notes.
You should ask a classmate for their notes or read through the section of the book that was covered. It is your responsibility to get caught up.
- Follow directions. You need to follow any directions the professor gives, whether they are given verbally or in writing. If you do not,
it will affect your grade. If your homework is required to be turned in a certain way, or solutions must be written in a particular form,
or take-home quiz is due at a certain time, then you have to follow these directions. Keep in minds that ignorance of the directions ---either by being absent, not
listening, or not reading--- is not an excuse. Not following directions is a sure way to lose points and puts you at risk for failing a course.
- Keep track of your grades. It is your responsibility to keep track of what scores you receive on homework, quizzes, exams, etc.
Almost every professor will describe in the syllabus how different parts of the course are weighted and how your final grade is calculated.
By keeping track of your scores, you can determine your current percentage in the class, or calculate how many points you need on
upcoming work to get a certain final grade. Do not treat your instructor like a secretary: It is not their job to look up
your scores for you whenever you ask, or to do basic calculations for you that you could do yourself.
- Go to office hours. If you are having difficulty in the course, you should go to
office hours and ask questions. You will be surprised how often this helps.
- Do the assignments in a timely manner. Whether it is assigned reading, homework problems to turn in, or exercises to do for practice,
you need to do the assignments and you need to do them in a timely manner. It is your job to practice using the concepts introduced in
class and keep up with the material so you do not fall behind.
- Ask questions about the material. Thinking is driven by questions, not answers. There are a lot of stupid questions people aske: ask them anyways and be ready to learn how to ask questions next time. Ask for clarification on anything you do not understand, but
also learn to ask "good" questions. A good question defines tasks, expresses problems, and delineates issues. A good question
inspires you to answer it and then ask more questions. The first step in critical thinking is asking good questions.
- Identify misunderstanding or gaps in your knowledge. It is your job to assess your own performance and determine whether or not
you are learning the material adequately. If you are not, you need to practice the material more or ask for help. There
are many ways you can evaluate and improve your performance. When you do practice problems in homework, identify the
problems or types of problems you are having difficulty with and work more problems similar to those. When you get homework or exams back, look at the problems
you missed and see if you were given any feedback. Learn from your mistakes. Rework problems on homework or exams that
you missed and learn how to do them correctly. Identify the
concepts you are having trouble with, and formulate good questions about them that you can either answer yourself or ask the instructor about.
- Be polite and respectful of the professor and of other students. Never be rude or disrespectful towards your professor or other students.
Make sure that nothing you do interferes with another student's ability to learn.
- Accept responsibility for your grades and the consequences of your actions. Realize that most professors
grade fairly, and grade your work based on the quality of your performance. If you do poorly in a course,
resist the temptation to blame the professor. Instead, be accountable for your own performance.
Do not beg for more points after homework or exams are returned. Do not complain without justification
that the grading is not fair. If you do not study for exams or do not turn in
homework, do not ask for an opportunity to re-do those exams or homework. Do not ask for extra credit opportunities
that would apply only to you. If you are performing poorly throughout the semester, talk to your professor
about your performance and grade as soon as possible, rather than waiting until it is too late. After your final grade is
assigned, do not ask if it can be raised or if you can do extra work to earn more points.
It is absolutely vital that you attend class regularly. Missing a class
should be a rare occurrence; something that happens at most once or twice a semester.
If you miss class more than this, it
will interfere with your learning and have a negative affect your performance
and your grade.
A prerequisite to success in any, any endeavor is "showing up", and classes are no exception.
If you're not showing up to class, you're
forfeiting every opportunity provided to you in the classroom.
Going to class does far more than simply giving you credit for attendance. Class attendance facilitates learning in a variety of ways, and here are just a few:
- Lectures and classes supplement reading assignments. Class gives you another
perspective on the material besides just the textbook. Even if you think you
already understand the material well, classes always adds something new. The instructor
may go over examples or applications you haven't seen, concepts in class may be presented in a different
way than in the text, and student questions and discussion may elaborate on the material
or provide new insights.
- Professors often use questions or class discussion to enhance critical thinking skills.
Attending class can be an opportunity
for you to engage the material with the guidance of the professor and the help of your classmates.
A professor may pose a question or lead a discussion in class that directs you to make connections between concepts and
helps you to think about the material in new ways.
- If you pay attention
in class, you may be surprised by how much you can cut your study time later on.
No textbook can explain something to you like another person can. Even if professors
seem as though they are just going through the material in the book, there will always
be added clarification and insights that you can discover in class.
Time in class is one to two hours during which you are actively thinking
about the material and practicing it.
- Your professor will emphasize the important concepts, giving you a better idea of
what is important and what you should focus on.
The professor is an expert on the material, and they design their lectures to
organize the main ideas and extract the important concepts. Attending class and taking
good notes can help you to put the ideas together and focus on what is important.
- Some professors are not very textbook oriented. Their lectures may be very different
from the way the textbook presents the material, and class may be used to convey the professor's
own viewpoints and perspectives. In a class like this,
test questions will more than likely be based on lecture notes rather than the text, so
attending class and taking good notes will be one of your best preparations for exams.
- Classes give you more interaction with the professor and other students in the class.
Attending and participating in class shows the professor that you are a serious student
who is taking responsibility
for your education and making an effort to learn. This
increases your interaction with faculty members, and
raises the likelihood of finding mentors and roll models who can help
guide you in your academic, career, and personal development. In addition,
class time is a chance to meet and interact with other students in your class. This can
help you to form study groups or meet other students in your major.
- Taking your own notes during a class is more useful than getting a copy of someone
else's notes (even the instructor's). In a
recent sstudy, only 8% of students reported that getting
class notes from a missed class is as useful as attending class.
Additionally, this 8% who thought borrowed notes were as good as going to class
had significantly lower reported grade point averages than
those who valued class attendance more. The act of attending
class and writing down your own notes will help you to learn the material and
solidify your understanding in a way that is much more effective
than when you miss class and read someone else's notes.
Occasionally, you may have to miss a class due to illness or an important obligation.
However, this should be a very rare occurrence. You should not miss class just
because you don't want to go or there is something else you would rather do. Realize
that going to class is the default expectation --- it is not a decision that needs to be made.
You should never miss one class in order to do homework or study for another class.
Some students mistakenly think this is prioritizing; in reality it is nothing more than
poor time management.
Doing work for one class should
not be done at the expense of another course. This will only hurt your
overall academic career and not benefit you in any way.
If you do miss class, get the notes from a classmate rather than ask your professor for a
copy of theirs. Professors
are busy, and often don't have time to do extra work each time a student misses a class.
It is your responsibility to attend class, and your responsibility to get get caught up on
the rare occasions you are absent.
There is a strong correlation between the number of
absences a student has and their final course grade. Skipping class can be a
fast track to poor performance, increased stress and
anxiety, a lower GPA, and even dropping out of school. It is
something you should avoid at all costs.