Setting class “norms”, expectations, and participation guidelines
Why is setting expectations so important? Setting expectations and norms help us to create a class culture and environment in which all students feel safe, supported, and encouraged to express their thoughts, opinions, values, experiences, and perspectives. Adult part-time learners like the ones enrolled at Harvard Extension School come to class from wildly varied backgrounds and with tremendous experience in various professional settings. Creating a space for them to feel safe sharing their thoughts and opinions gives you an opportunity to leverage their experience to create a dynamic learning experience for all students in your course.
Explicitly communicating norms and expectations for participation and interaction helps students know what to expect, understand why certain values are important, and reduces the likelihood of unnecessary conflicts. It also helps you, the instructor, intervene and correct certain behaviors if necessary.
Developing class norms and expectations
Designing a norm setting activity
Examples of class norms you might set
One way to explicitly set norms and expectations for your class is to create them on your own and list them in your syllabus and on your Canvas site. It is recommended that you spend time during your first class session explaining what the expectations are why they matter.
Another effective strategy is to take time during class to generate class norms as a group. This allows your students to make an agreement together about what to expect from themselves and others. In addition to giving your students an opportunity to express what is important to them, this can also serve as a trust building exercise between you, your students, and each other. After norms are agreed upon they should be easily accessible to all students, for example on a written poster somewhere in the classroom or in an easy to find place on your Canvas site (or both!). In cases of conflict, the class can refer back to the norms you set to assist with discussion and resolution.
Norm setting activities can be done in small groups or as an activity with the entire class. They can be done in person or online, both synchronously or asynchronously. For online courses, you might choose to utilize tools for sharing and voting such as PollEverywhere, Qualtrics, Zoom polls, or others.
When designing a norm setting activity, keep in mind the following things: