Setting clear expectations

Contributed by Dr. Selina Lim, TLC, and Mr. Laurence Ho, Associate Faculty and 2011 Teaching Excellence Award Winner from HDSS

As instructors, it helps your students greatly if you outline and reiterate from the outset the (1) requirements, (2) expectations, and (3) learning outcomes that they should achieve at the end of the course.

Given the packed semester schedule at UniSIM, and the many other demands on your students’ time, such elaboration and clarification at the start of the course will help provide meaning and focus to what your students are studying; it would also give your students a better handle on why they are studying what they are studying, and how these (courses / topics / sub-topics) are related to their programme of study.

By clearly articulating and explaining the learning outcomes of the course you’re teaching, and how they relate to the discipline of study, you also provide your students with clear targets which they can use to monitor their own progress towards those stated goals.

Education researchers have found that clear articulation of learning outcomes and expectations serve as guideposts that provide students with clues as to what minimally they need to do or show in their assignments and assessments, in order to demonstrate their competence in the subject matter.

Assignments are one of the milestones along your students’ learning journey that serve to measure their progress in their studies. Yet, students often encounter anxiety when tackling assignments, especially when expectations and requirements underpinning those assignments are not clearly articulated and further elaborated.

As an instructor, you can help alleviate your students’ anxiety by clarifying the requirements of assignments, and providing the required scaffolding to aid their learning. Here is what Laurence Ho, 2011 Teaching Excellence Award winner with HDSS’ Counselling programme has to share.

Laurence: I make it a point to make sure that I have a good balance between delivering the contents and also spending enough time to go through the TMA requirements with them.

 I think students need to feel secure; they need to know what is expected. Some of the students that I have taught so far have not been in education for quite a while, which means that the last time they were in school could be 10, 20 years ago.

So, I think that probably explains why some of them are very anxious – “Am I understanding the TMA requirements right? Am I writing to the point?”  All that.

So I do find it helpful to dedicate some time, especially when the deadline is drawing nearer for TMA submission, to really go through with them about the requirements.

Most of the students that I have encountered so far don’t really expect me to give them model answers. But they appreciate a lot when I go through the TMA requirements with them on what exactly I am looking for.

As Laurence points out, clarifying basic expectations and requirements underpinning course assignments is not the same as providing your students with model answers, or telling them exactly how to craft their answers. By explaining how the assignments are related to topic learning outcomes, students would have a better idea as to the areas of competencies they must demonstrate in their assignments, in order to show that they have achieved the expected knowledge or skill sets required of them.

Laurence also sees much value in clarifying the requirements of the assignments with students, as this also serves as a self-reflective exercise for you, as an instructor.

Laurence: As associates, it is  important for us to be clear.  Once we are clear about what we are looking for, I think the delivery of the clarity will normally help the students to have more peace of mind.

 I remember when I was a student, there were moments in my education; I felt the most insecure when I had a sense that my lecturer was not very clear of what he was looking for in terms of the assignments  on what I am suppose to do .

But when I had a good sense , when my lecturer  was very clear, he knew what he was looking out for and he translated that really clearly to me as a student, – then I felt really secure. 

 I knew that he will never tell me what the model answer is but I knew for the fact that as long as he knows what he is looking out for and as long as I meet that requirement, I should be in safe hands. So I do find that very helpful.

So the questions that we need to ask ourselves as associates are

  • “Are we clear about  the requirements?”,
  • “Are we clear about what are we looking out for, that differentiates between an “A” paper and “B” paper, “C” paper and a “D” paper?
  • Are we clear ourselves?”

If we are not, then we need to challenge us to be clear. If we are not clear, then I think the students will not be clear, and the insecure feeling will continue to snowball. But once we are clear, we translate that clarity to them. I think that will really go a long way in helping them to feel more at ease with the modules and also the requirements.

I think, most important of all, is really to enjoy learning. Once students feel secure about the requirement, I think then that would put them at ease to really enjoy the rest of their modules with us.

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About tlcunisim

This is the TLC UniSIM blog: the virtual community space for associates and faculty members to share ideas on teaching and learning. This blog is edited by Dr. Abdel Halim Sykes, Lecturer, Teaching and Learning Centre, SIM University, Singapore.
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