Cooperative Learning Structures and Deep Learning

Cooperative learning structures such as jigsaw and think-pair-share are widely used in college classrooms. The two most basic tenets of cooperative learning involve positive interdependence and individual accountability. “Positive interdependence means that group members perceive that the collective effort of the group is essential in order for the individual learners to achieve their goals.” (p. 176) And individual accountability establishes that students are assessed individually on their achievement of the learning goals.

Empirical studies of various sorts have verified that cooperative learning events are related to higher academic achievement more so than are competitive, individualistic learning environments. That doesn’t mean that students always endorse the use of these group structures. Survey research has identified a number of objections raised by students, including having to depend on less well-prepared and less motivated peers and not having teachers at the ready with “right” answers.

Article author Herrmann was interested in whether cooperative learning structures such as the ones above as well as participation (which he defined to include cooperative learning tenets) increased student engagement in discussion sections. The students he studied were enrolled in a large, semester-long political theory course in which weekly lectures were complemented by discussion sections led by tutors (TAs). Students in the experimental sections worked in randomly formed cooperative learning groups to generate a group response to worksheet questions. The tutor then selected one group to present its work to the rest of the class for whole-class discussion. In the control sections, study groups were assigned one of these questions and tasked with preparing a presentation on it. They consulted with the tutor before presenting their material in class.

What makes this study especially interesting is that Herrmann defined engagement in terms of the students’ approaches to learning the material. The assumption in the cooperative learning literature has been that if these kinds of group structures are used, students will engage with the material at a deeper level. They will avoid those surface-learning approaches associated with memorizing and quickly forgetting. Using a well-known instrument, Herrmann measured the approaches to learning being taken by students in the experimental groups before and after the cooperative learning activity. He found that “on average, students did not adopt a deeper approach when participating in cooperative learning tutorials … compared to student presentation tutorials.” (p. 179) However, they weren’t using more surface approaches, and students in the cooperative learning sections did participate more than those students in the control groups.

More interesting results emerged when Herrmann analyzed responses to two open-ended questions about those parts of the tutorial that students did and did not learn from. Twenty-seven percent of the cohort were mostly positive about the cooperative learning experience, and 45 percent were mostly negative. Whether students were mostly positive or mostly negative about the cooperative learning structures was strongly influenced by their tutor. When students were mostly negative, it was because they didn’t think the tutor took enough control of the class. By control, students meant the tutors should clarify which answers were correct and do more teaching. They wanted to be told the answers rather than having to figure them out in their groups.

The results of the research support a conclusion at odds with much of the writing about cooperative learning. “Changing the instructional methods is in itself not enough to discourage a surface approach and promote a deep approach to learning.” (p. 183) Students won’t engage in deep discussions with peers unless they see the value of those exchanges in terms of their own achievement. It boils down to this simple fact: many students don’t believe they can learn content from and with their peers. Much evidence verifies that they can, but they first need to be convinced.

A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning

At its most basic level, the syllabus is used to communicate information about the course, the instructor, learning objectives, assignments, grading policies, due dates, the university’s academic integrity statement, and, in some cases, an increasingly long list of strongly worded admonitions on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the college classroom.

For some faculty, the syllabus is a contract between them and their students, complete with a dotted line where students sign their name indicating they consent to the terms of the agreement. Lolita Paff, an associate professor at Penn State Berks, is a reformed syllabus-as-a-contract believer.

“I will confess, as a former business professional, I did view the syllabus as a contract,” said Paff. “But when you really think about a contract, and you have someone sign a contract, that, by nature, sets up an adversarial relationship. The implied message is, ‘I don’t expect that you’re going to live up to this unless I have it in writing.’ That used to be the tone in my classroom—it’s not the tone anymore. That approach doesn’t foster a good learning environment.”

What is a learner-centered syllabus?

Today, Paff takes a more learner-centered approach to her syllabi. A learner-centered syllabus can take many forms, but it often includes one or more of these features:

  • A rationale for course objectives and assignments. A syllabus can be used to set the stage and the context for the course and where it sits within the discipline. Paff encourages faculty to be intentional about what is and isn’t included in the course, and then share that with students. Why are these assignments a part of the course? Why are we studying this particular topic?
  • Shared decision making. In some cases, a learner-centered syllabus means allowing students to have some say in course policies and procedures. Depending on the course and the students, Paff allows some flexibility in decision making for assignment weights and options. While first-year students typically won’t have the maturity to make these types of decisions, juniors and seniors can often thrive when given some choice in how they will demonstrate their learning.
  • Warnings of potential pitfalls. There are often certain components of a course that students find more difficult than others. Giving students a heads-up of what to look out for or behaviors that could impede success (e.g., “You really want to look out for X, and here’s a strategy so that it doesn’t happen.”) can go a long way. “That advice is going to be well received by students,” said Paff. “It sets the stage that the teacher really cares about them, not just what’s going to be covered and what’s expected of them, but that you’re in this together.”
  • An opportunity for students to set teacher expectations. On the first day of class, as Paff goes over the syllabus and outlines her expectations for students, she asks what they expect of her. The students break into groups to discuss past learning experiences and offer up one or two policies that they think will help them learn, which Paff types into a document during the exercise. Throughout the semester, the class revisits the students’ recommendations. “I might say, ‘See, you asked me to provide review sessions, so I’m extending my office hours before the next exam,’” Paff explained. “It’s another opportunity to talk about what we are learning, where we are in the course, what our expectations were for the class, and how are we progressing.”
  • Recommendations for staying on track. Every syllabus includes a course calendar, but a learner-centered syllabus could also provide guidance on how to tackle specific projects—from how much time something will take to strategies for gathering the necessary resources, Paff said. In addition, students might also need help in evaluating and monitoring their progress throughout the course.

“When it comes to a learner-centered syllabus vs. a traditional syllabus, it’s not really a difference so much in content as it is in tone,” said Paff. “There’s a shift in emphasis from ‘What are we going to cover?’ to ‘How can the course promote learning and intellectual development in students?’ So it’s going to contain roughly the same information, but the language used to convey the policies, procedures, and content is different in order to foster a more engaging and shared learning environment.”

How long should a syllabus be?

One of the big questions faculty have regarding their syllabi centers on length. While there is no hard-and-fast rule about the optimal length of a syllabus, there is often a tendency for policy creep to push the page count higher than necessary as faculty try to anticipate every possible scenario that could occur throughout the semester.

“My syllabi started off at two to three pages, and then as I tried to close every loophole that would develop, it grew, and grew, and grew to the point where I had an entire page on nothing but classroom policies and procedures for missed exams and absences, and how I wanted homework submitted, and it grew to this five-page detailed tome,” said Paff. “Now there’s nothing wrong with a four or five page syllabus, if it serves your purpose and it’s the kind of document that you revisit with students, and it’s one that sets a framework for learning.”

Rather than worry about syllabus length, Paff encourages faculty to think about the tone of the syllabus and the order of the content they’re presenting.

The Power of Mindfulness in the Classroom

How long is your students’ attention span? For that matter, how long is your own?

According to one estimate, the average attention span in the year 2000 was 12 seconds; by 2012, it had dropped to eight seconds. By comparison, a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in your class could manage to be mentally present for the entire class? What kinds of learning could take place if they were?

The answer is encouraging mindfulness. According to Kristin L. Roush, PhD, a psychology faculty member at Central New Mexico Community College, mindfulness “can improve mental focus and academic performance.”

In Everybody Present: Mindfulness in the Classroom, Roush explains, “Mindfulness mysteriously seems to cultivate emotional balance, kindness, and compassion. These qualities enhance the learning process.”

Practicing mindfulness and staying in the present will lessen anxiety, increase concentration, and improve creativity, among other benefits. But staying in the present can be a difficult task.

In her online seminar, Roush offers some techniques for encouraging mindfulness in the classroom. Some ideas include:

  • Never tell your class they are getting out early, or they will spend the class period halfway out the door.
  • Use pregnant pauses while speaking to focus student attention.
  • Ask students to set an intention for the class and write it in their notes. For example, they might write, “If I were going to be distracted by anything during class, it might be [what?]. I choose to set this aside during class today.”
  • As a reminder to stay present, ask students to look down at where they are standing. Remind them that they are usually currently located somewhere in the vicinity of their own feet rather than being wherever their minds take them.

Throughout her online seminar, Roush gives practical and actionable ideas for incorporating mindfulness practices into the classroom. She also leads the online attendees in mindfulness exercises, making this seminar a highly experiential one.

Being present in class requires more than just a physical body; Everybody Present: Mindfulness in the Classroom will help you assist your students in being present rather than simply attending class.


Personal Goals: An Exercise in Student Self-Assessment

This summer I am reading Linda Nilson’s book Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills, which offers instructors a wealth of assignments and activities to help students grow their self-regulation and metacognitive abilities. Teaching students how to learn well on their own and to evaluate that learning is a goal I have been pursuing for the past few years, and I am convinced that occasional, brief self-assessment exercises can help college students perform better as well as understand the learning process.

I teach Spanish, and over the years I’ve noticed that as language students move to higher levels of the curriculum and higher levels of proficiency, they are able to identify the content (grammar, vocabulary) and skills (narration, speculation, speaking on abstract topics) that are most challenging to master. But despite their increasing language proficiency, they are still novices when it comes to self-regulated learning. They lack the broad array of study strategies and self-assessment practices required to demonstrate learning in the areas of greatest challenge.

In recent years I have begun to ask students in my upper-division Spanish courses to formulate personal goals at the start of the term. Nilson argues that goal-setting characterizes self-regulated learners and is one of the first things such students do when given a new task (17-18). Since my advanced students have studied Spanish for several years and have a stronger sense of their strengths and weaknesses as language learners, I ask them to shape a significant portion of the coursework for the term, usually 15-20%, in the form of personal goals. They first write two or three personal goals for the semester, using a list of sample goals as a guide. Next, they identify their methods of pursuing these goals, making detailed statements about the resources they will use and the practice work they will do during the term.

Each student creates a Google Doc with his or her goals and methods, to which I respond with comments and required revisions. Twice during the term students write a short reflection essay (three or four paragraphs) in which they must evaluate progress on their personal goals and include specific evidence from their work to demonstrate their learning. Students submit the reflection essays electronically on the same Google Doc where they formulated their personal goals, and I use the comment feature to post feedback in the margins.

The reflection essays are the essential ingredient in making this a meaningful exercise in self-assessment. Most advanced-level students recognize where they struggle in learning Spanish and are able to articulate concrete goals; however, the results of the first reflection essay reveal a gap between what students want to accomplish and how they demonstrate achievement. As I give feedback on their first reflection essay, I almost always indicate the need for more specific examples that indicate progress toward a personal goal. Sometimes students underestimate the time required to do independent work toward goals, while others fail to locate appropriate resources. Most often, though, students confuse the act of doing work toward personal goals with actual evidence of progress, and that is why I love this particular form of self-assessment: it opens students’ eyes to the difference between demonstrated effort and demonstrated learning.

Once students see the distinction between effort and learning, they begin to look for and incorporate evidence of learning in their reflection essays. Depending upon their stated goals, they might include examples of a more expansive vocabulary, more sophisticated knowledge of a Spanish-speaking culture, greater facility in comprehending and commenting on a complex reading, or more elaborate description and narration during conversation. Seeing what constitutes a real demonstration of learning also helps them reformulate goals, when necessary, or make better choices about resources and work methods in pursuing their goals. In their second reflection essays I usually find more substantive evidence of progress, which tells me the students are understanding better the relationship among goals, practice, and learning.

When I think about the goals of advanced disciplinary courses and the most effective kinds of assessment, I am more and more persuaded that self-assessment exercises like personal goals contribute to stronger student learning. Raising my students’ levels of awareness about how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning doesn’t require time-consuming evaluations loosely connected to course objectives, nor does it involve radically redesigning course content. Self-assessment exercises can help students learn to learn more effectively, moving them toward stronger performance in particular courses as well as higher levels of learning proficiency.



Research Highlights How Easily and Readily Students Fabricate Excuses

“My grandmother fell down on her patio and I had to go stay with her for a few days and she does not have internet or a computer and all of my research was in my dorm room …”

When students are unable to comply with some aspect of an academic task (e.g. due date, assignment length, quality of work), there is potential for them to communicate reasons as to why they were unable to complete the task to their instructor. At this point the students have a choice, in which case they can either provide legitimate reasons for not being able to complete or to submit their coursework, or they can communicate something which is a deliberate attempt to deceive the instructor. A student may communicate information designed to deceive or construct a fraudulent claim to an instructor in order to avoid the undesirable consequences (e.g. a bad grade that may hurt the student’s overall standing in a class) of not complying with the academic task. Roig and Caso (2005) found that the frequency of which providing fraudulent claims occurs in an academic environment is approximately equal to, if not greater than, more commonly identified forms of academic dishonesty such as cheating and plagiarism. Ferrari et al. (1998) indicated that fraudulent claim making was utilized by as many as 70% of American college students. However, this phenomenon has received limited empirical attention in recent time in comparison to other forms of academically dishonest behavior.

Participants assigned to the low academic consequence condition saw in the place of the X that the assignment was worth 5%, whereas the high academic consequences condition read that the assignment was worth 40%. Additionally, below this passage, participants read one of the following statements indicating the communication medium to contact the instructor: (1) Alex’s instructor, who has been teaching for 10 years, noted in the syllabus that if students needed to contact him about assignments or the course material, they should do so via email, or (2) Alex’s instructor, who has been teaching for 10 years, noted in the syllabus that if students needed to contact him about assignments or the course material, they must speak with him in person, at the beginning of class or via appointment.

Following reading the vignette, participants were asked to imagine that they were in the situation described in the vignette and answered whether they would contact their instructor to try to gain an extension. If they responded yes, then they were directed to a question asking them if they would “make up an excuse in order to gain an extension.” Participants who provided a “Yes” response were asked to report their reason and then rate their confidence on a scale of 0%–100% (0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, or 100%) that the instructor would grant them an extension if given this reason.

The study did not reveal that those in the higher academic consequences condition were statistically more likely to produce a fraudulent claim than those in the low consequences condition. Yet while an incomplete assignment worth 5% of a grade is likely to have minimal effect on students’ academic standing in a particular class, an assignment worth 40% has potential to dramatically influence students’ overall grade. The lack of significant effect of academic consequences suggests that individuals are willing to create fraudulent claims, regardless of the severity of the negative consequences they are trying to avoid. The finding that 66% of individuals would engage in deceptive behavior to avoid what could be deemed as very minor negative consequences for those not completing an assignment worth 5% of their grade poses an interesting question for future studies in this area. Namely, do consequences matter in relation to fraudulent claim making, or is it the individuals’ beliefs about communicating information that is deceptive to instructors that matter?

The study described here found that family emergency was reported as the claim students would be most likely to utilize when faced with a potential situation to report a fraudulent claim in order to gain an extension on an assignment. The results suggest that students perceive family emergency as more believable by an instructor than the other claim types, and they also expressed higher confidence in claims about personal illness and computer troubles than did not understand an assignment. It is worthwhile to note that while participants reported fraudulent claims, a number of participants also indicated that they would tell the truth to their instructor when asking for an extension. However, participants reporting the truth expressed less confidence that the instructor would grant them an extension.

How to Foster Critical Thinking, Student Engagement in Online Discussions

Threaded discussions can provide excellent opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking. But critical thinking isn’t an automatic feature of these discussions. It needs to be nurtured through clear expectations, carefully crafted questions, timely and useful feedback, and creative facilitation.

In an interview with Online Classroom, Texas Tech University instructors Marcus Tanner, Jillian Yarbrough, and Andrea McCourt discussed some of the principles of designing and managing threaded discussions that have helped their students engage the material and each other in productive discussions.

Crafting questions

Discussion prompts play an essential role in soliciting meaningful discussion. Although there are opportunities for the instructor to spontaneously engage in asking questions, it’s important to carefully plan and construct questions that progress from basic to advanced.

“I usually start my semester at the very basic level, asking knowledge questions, because I want everyone to get really comfortable in the discussion and feel that it’s a safe place to share opinions and ideas,” says McCourt, program director of Human Resource Development. “If you’re going to move up to synthesis or application, I think that takes several weeks of students taking chances and being rewarded in discussions as well as giving them very well-written questions.”

In addition to helping students become more comfortable in the online setting, lower-level questions can help them become more comfortable with the content. “Some of our students are not only learning to navigate, but this also might be a new topic to them, and it’s difficult to jump immediately into synthesis or application,” says Yarbrough, who teaches in the Human Resource Development program.

Lower-level questions need not be simple yes-no questions. For example, if the content describes a four-step process, rather than getting students to simply restate those steps, you can have them select which step is their favorite or state which they think is the most important and why. This provides the “lower-level regurgitation, and you can extend the question a little bit to have students talk about their preferences,” McCourt says. “You can push it a little further.”

Tanner, program director for Integrative Studies, adds, “It’s not a yes-no question. It’s a multipart question where in the first part they’re answering something at the low level, but the second part is midlevel. Even with the same discussion question they’re utilizing more than one level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, so we’re constantly challenging them to move higher up.”

Set expectations

Students need to know what is expected of them in threaded discussions. Describe expectations, provide a rubric, and demonstrate in the introductory discussion what you consider to be a substantive post.

“We have created our own rubrics. I apply them across the courses I teach, but each is going to have a slight modification from course to course because the discussion might have a different point value or a different emphasis. Sometimes the amount of participation requirement varies slightly from course to course,” Yarbrough says.

The discussion board has the potential to bring together diverse perspectives. The key is to help students feel comfortable sharing. “We all have had different careers and different experiences. Embrace that, and say periodically, ‘Share your perspective. Share your experiences. We’re looking for you to share your unique ideas and experiences. It’s important to be on topic, but there’s no right or wrong answer,’” Yarbrough says.

That said, a substantive post needs to be more than just one’s opinion. “Even though we may ask for their personal opinion about something, we’re also expecting that opinion to come out of the course content. So when I’m grading those discussion board posts, I might write, ‘This is a great thought that you had, but how is this connected to the course content for the week? What can you pull from the text or one of the lectures that would help substantiate what you’re saying here?’” Tanner says.

When McCourt asks students to include their opinions, she phrases the prompt carefully to say things such as, “Using your related life experiences, professional opinions, and information from the textbook, tell me … .” This helps clarify the expectation that “it’s not merely an opinion question,” McCourt says.

For them to get the highest grade on a post, McCourt requires students to cite outside resources—the textbook, a journal article, or a reputable website. “Even if I have a very opinion-heavy question, for full credit they know they have to cite something else,” she says.

Students get graded on the discussions and see the rubric on a regular basis, but sometimes general feedback to all the students can help raise the level of the discussion. “I teach all undergraduate classes, and the trickiest thing for me to do is to get them to cite outside sources and do it well. When I provide the [discussion] model in the first week of the semester or so, I will actually give them a post where I cite and give an opinion, and I’ll sometimes call their attention to the fact after I’ve graded the first week that the biggest problem I usually see in student responses is that they haven’t cited outside resources. In my class feedback after the first week of the semester I will frequently say, ‘Here’s the biggest area of omission. Look at my response to the discussion question. That’s what I expect from you,’” McCourt says.

Managing participation

In addition to setting expectations and asking questions that will generate lively discussion, the instructor needs to monitor and facilitate the discussion to keep it on track and maximize learning.

At the beginning of each discussion, Tanner posts a “primer, providing a little bit more feedback in terms of what I’m looking for in an answer, and I might even provide a bit of an answer to the question as I see it.”

At the end of the discussion, after he has graded it, Tanner posts a reflection. “I’ll say, ‘This is what I saw in terms of students’ participation in this discussion. These are some really great points that were made.’ Then I might also bring up some points that weren’t made and even do some housekeeping things in those reflections, saying, ‘You guys really need to stick close to the course content’ or ‘Make sure you’re using APA style.’”

Yarbrough also provides a summary post, making sure that students see how each week’s discussion builds on the previous week’s. In addition, she might ask an additional question if she sees participation dwindling.

“I have the main discussion question, and of course I’m responding to students. But I can also post a new question that is related, and sometimes in these new questions, I might say something like ‘Last week we talked about x, and now we’re talking about y. Let’s discuss how x and y are related,’” Yarbrough says.

The additional question is optional, but the idea is to generate new ideas and help students see how the content builds throughout the course.

When McCourt sees discussion decreasing, she rephrases the question or incorporates a current event or YouTube clip to get the conversation going again.

“I view my role as that of a moderator. I think if you establish yourself as an authority, you can shut down the discussion. So I make it a point in my syllabus and in the discussion that we’re learning together. And when I respond to students, a lot of times I tell them, ‘I will be playing the devil’s advocate role, so I will question what you’re saying. It’s not because what you’re saying is wrong. It’s because I want to hear more ideas,’” McCourt says.

In addition, sometimes students need to be redirected in the discussion board. “If I get a response that I need to send in a different direction or correct a little bit, I always try to find something in that student’s response that is positive. ‘I really liked your unique approach and really liked the way you did this. That’s the first time I’ve seen it described that way. Have you thought about this … ?’ I try to very gently redirect as a moderator, because I think discussion needs to be fostered, and I do think an instructor can shut it down. Also, I would never tell a student in a public forum, ‘You’re wrong,’” McCourt says.


Rubrics help streamline the grading process, but sometimes it’s important to provide additional feedback to students that the other students don’t see. This feedback might be a simple compliment on a good post, or it might be more in-depth coaching.

“I usually save my qualitative feedback for students who have gone above and beyond expectations or when I need to provide additional feedback for students who are struggling,” McCourt says. “I do not respond to every student each week. I try to keep a running tally of who I responded to each week, so I interact with everyone throughout the semester in the public forum. I try to interact equally with all students in discussion boards rather than responding just to early posters.”


Why Change Our Approach to Teaching?

ennifer Roberts first noticed the difference a few years ago in Geology 101.

The course regularly draws 300 or more students a semester, and Roberts, an associate professor of geology, was teaching in much the same way she had since she took over the course in 2002: lecture and exam.

Problem was, exam scores were dropping, she said, and as she interacted with students, she found that they had less understanding of the material than students had had just two or three years before.

So Roberts set out to transform the class, which is now called The Way the Earth Works, into an active learning format, with in-class group work, student presentations, clicker questions aimed at prompting discussions, and lots of interactions with students. With the help of Kelsey Bitting, a postdoctoral teaching fellow, she began moving away from what Bitting calls the “fire-hose approach” to teaching and concentrating on helping students learn core skills through hands-on activities.

Research has long cast doubt on the use of lecture in education. Donald Bligh, in his book What’s the Use of Lecture?, provides some of the most compelling evidence, reviewing more than 200 college-level courses in several disciplines. The biggest benefit of lecture is that it is an efficient means of reaching a large number of students in a single setting. Bligh argues that lectures can be useful in conveying information but that they do little to promote thought or problem-solving abilities, or to change behavior. Rather, they reinforce ideas, values, and habits that students have already accepted.

Despite the evidence about lecture’s weaknesses, two-thirds to three-quarters of faculty members continue to rely it, according to research summarized by Derek Bok of Harvard in his book Our Underachieving Colleges. As Bok argues, though, facts, theories, and concepts delivered in lecture have little value unless students can apply them to new situations, ask pertinent questions, make reasoned judgments, and arrive at meaningful conclusions.

Bitting urges instructors to think about it this way: “You may have a lecture that works to get students to take a multiple choice test really effectively,” she said. “But when you have a conversation with that student after your semester, they may not actually remember anything. Or they may not know how to make sense of it outside of the context of the little paragraph in the textbook where they read it the first time.”

Transforming a class, especially a large lecture class, isn’t easy. Roberts has essentially applied the scientific method to her teaching of Geology 101, experimenting with a variety of techniques. Some have failed; others have succeeded. “There has been a lot struggle but also self-reflection on my process and then on the learning process in general,” she said.

Roberts said her experience with active learning in a large class had forced her to step away from the class material and recognize that students “are not me.”

“They don’t learn like I do,” she said. “And that’s OK. But my job is to have them learn, so I need to think about what’s the best to have everybody do the best they can and to learn.”

The adjustments in an active learning class can be difficult for students, as well. As Catherine Sloan writes in Change magazine, millennials “have a deep fear of failure,” so getting them to take intellectual risks takes patience. Nor do they deal well with ambiguity. They like clear, firm solutions to academic problems, and pushing them to think beyond a single “right answer” also takes work from instructors.

Tradition has also made changing the format of classes more challenging. Students have grown accustomed to sitting passively in lectures, reviewing instructors’ notes or slides posted online, attending study sessions (again, passively), cramming for exams, and moving on. Many resent having to take an active role in class—isn’t that the professor’s job?—and in their learning in general.

Even so, many students find the expectations of their professors lower than they had anticipated. Sloan writes that “the most common complaint we hear from students is not that their professors are too demanding but that they don’t hold firmly to deadlines and expectations.”

Bitting also urges instructors to look more broadly at student learning.

“Even if your lecture is working really well for getting your students to take a multiple choice test, if they’re not excited about it and they don’t care about it when they leave, maybe you’re not doing the job you want to do,” she said.