Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

Responsibility for Learning

Professor and student working togetherMutual responsibilities
When a semester starts, students and faculty members should discuss how they will work together. Respectful interaction is a foundation for teaching and learning. Disagreements should focus on ideas or facts. Verbal assaults on fellow students or an instructor are never appropriate.

Class attendance is a privilege. Both instructors and students should follow community standards for conduct, in and out of class. Social boundaries vary from person to person; students should have a chance to discuss their expectations with an instructor and with each other. Students should express their preferences for classroom interactions that support their learning. They should know how their fellow students will react if they don’t meet standards for behavior. Instructors should be very clear about consequences of not following the group’s standards. Students should support standards if consequences occur.

Instructors and students should talk about how they want to be addressed (e.g., “Professor Smith,” not “Mr. Smith” or “George” or “Hey, teacher”). They should also be clear about how they want to communicate in and out of class (e.g., some students prefer e-mail, some phone calls; some professors answer e-mail until late at night, some won’t answer after 5 PM).

Student responsibilities
Whether they’re asking for information or commenting on ideas during discussions, students should respect peers and respect an instructor as the classroom leader. One way to demonstrate respect for an instructor is to come to class prepared and on time.

Students should know an instructor’s preferences for communication and follow them. For example, they should find out if it’s okay to call an instructor at home. They should understand how often—and how late at night—an instructor reads e-mail, and shouldn’t expect a reply too quickly.

Students should be formal and polite when they’re communicating with instructors, both verbally and by e-mail. Students can be casual only if an instructor explicitly welcomes it. Learning to differentiate among individuals’ communication preferences is a useful social and professional skill, and it should be developed.

There are many priorities in a full life; academic work should be very high among them. Students should have enough time to go to classes and complete assignments. Other activities, for money or other reasons, aren’t grounds to expect reduced time on coursework. KU’s policy is that students should allow up to two hours of study for every hour in class. While some instructors don’t follow that policy, others reasonably expect full preparation. Learning takes time, and students are expected to reserve enough time to complete the learning called for in their classes.

Faculty responsibilities
Faculty members should be very clear about how they expect students to perform and participate in courses. During the first week of classes, instructors should discuss their expectations, including acceptable conduct during class meetings (e.g., no cell phones, sudoku, etc.). The discussion could also include specifics about attendance and whether late assignments are accepted.

Instructors should be clear about communication, including forms of address, timing and amount of phone or e-mail contact, and the appropriate degree of formality. Students should be asked how they would like to be addressed in class or in phone and e-mail communication (e.g. “Miss Smith” or “Ms. Smith” or “Jenny”). Instructors should also be clear about how quickly they’ll provide feedback on student work. Ideally, faculty members should return graded work to students by the date promised.

As part of an open class discussion, instructors should explain how they’ll respond if students ignore the guidelines for class conduct. At all times, instructors should respect a student’s right to offer alternate opinions and to ask questions.

Some things must remain areas of instructor discretion, not subject to negotiation with students. These include course content, criteria for measuring understanding/performance, nature and timing of assignments (in and out of class), and use of class time. As with other areas, these expectations should be made explicit at the beginning of the course.

Mutual responsibilities
At the beginning of a course, students and faculty members should talk about and agree upon:

  • How they’ll work together.
  • How they want to be addressed.
  • How they want to communicate in and out of class.
  • What their community standards for conduct are.
  • What consequences would result if standards aren’t followed.

Establishing positive environments
To establish a positive classroom environment, instructors should:

  • Explain how class time will be used.
  • Describe their need for students to be quiet and pay attention.
  • Identify opportunities for student-to-student interaction.

Classroom civility

KU classrooms should be:

  • Focused on learning and communication
  • Respectful of diverse understandings
  • Committed to supporting learning
  • Respectful of all people

The Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities outlines the rights of students and many of the standards of conduct (responsibilities) expected within the KU community. Within the classroom, according to the University Senate Rules and Regulations, “An instructor has the authority to set reasonable rules for classroom conduct. When an instructor judges that a student’s behavior is disruptive or obstructive to learning, the instructor can request that the student leave the classroom. Refusal to comply with a request to leave a classroom can itself be grounds for a charge of academic misconduct.”

Faculty members are encouraged to talk with students early each semester to clarify mutual expectations. In most cases, this will help circumvent serious civility problems.

Keys to facilitating civility
To facilitate civility, the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Success and the Center for Teaching Excellence suggest that faculty members and students:

  • Talk about and be clear about expectations—how to address each other, communicate in and out of class, and meet community standards for conduct.
  • Recognize that disagreements are part of university life, and there’s a difference between understanding and agreement.
  • If you disagree with someone, be respectful.
  • Support the KU community as we all pursue learning and discovery.

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