As new students arrive on campus and get ready to begin their first college courses, they bring with them a set of expectations about what they’ll experience in the classroom. Based on what they’ve heard from friends and family members, what they’ve seen in movies, and what they’ve experienced in school themselves, they are probably walking in with some preconceived notions around the difficulty of the coursework, the types of discussion or group work experiences they’ll share with fellow students, or how you, as their instructor, will lead the class. Those expectations may be met—or, they could be completely dismantled by the end of the first month.

Students beginning an online course or program are considering a slightly different set of expectations, as well as a number of “unknowns.” Some may expect an online class to be easier; some may be up for an exciting challenge; and others may already be overwhelmed by the idea of learning a new set of technologies in addition to the content they’re covering in class.

Taking some time to explore and discuss our expectations of any new experience can prepare us for what’s to come. To enable your students to understand what they expect out of their experience in the online setting, encourage your students to complete “The Changing College Classroom,” a reflective writing activity from the Instructor’s Manual for Joel A. English’s Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner: 

One important way to understand the expectations of an online course is to ask students to recall their prior educational experiences and compare how an online course will be different and similar to traditional courses. Ask students to write a list of activities that were common to class environments from the past, and then discuss how each of these activities might appear in an online class. This will help them begin to parse through some of the key responsibilities they will have within the online classroom.


Assignment Prompt: 

The first step of this assignment is to describe all of the elements of a traditional classroom from your high school and any previous college experience. What types of activities, assignments, and events took place within traditional classrooms? Write an exhaustive list (at least 10 items) of activities that made up your traditional classroom experience.  

Having done that, how do you think these activities will show up within an online course? If class discussion among peers was part of your traditional classrooms, how will discussion appear in an online course? Will reading be different? How will lecture differ in an online setting? Will there be new activities in online courses, and will any traditional activities disappear? For each activity or event you listed for a residential course, describe how you think it will change in an online setting. (English, p 3)

Reference: English, Joel A. 2014. Online Instructor’s Manual to accompany Plugged In: Succeeding as an Online Learner.  Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

How do you help students understand and manage their expectations? Share your ideas below or submit them via [email protected]