4.3 Setting expectations

Expectations of roles and participation

Key Concept: Set clear expectations of what, where and when to contribution online.

Roles of the lecturer and student

In any teaching space the role of the lecturer and student may differ. Whether it is the student or the lecturer leading the learning reflects the underlying pedagogical approach, which is why explaining the approach being adopted is as important as the technical instructions for using a tool.

There may be instances where the student is required to actively participate in a session, perhaps teaching content to other students to demonstrate their understanding or adopting the feedback role usually performed by the lecturer. The lecturer may be adopt a didactic approach to deliver new content, or facilitatory approach, for example in discussions. These roles are established within face-to-face environments implicitly. Online these need to be established, particularly where students are required to lead their own learning or there are expectations over interactions, in particular feedback.

The facility of the tool will depend upon the expectations for contribution, which is why it is helpful to establish these parameters before choosing the tool.

Example: Asynchronous discussion board

Underpinned by a social constructivist pedagogy, some distance learning programmes require students to address a particular discussion topic creating text-based posts to a discussion space. Their posts reflect their own experiences, application of theory and reflections on their understanding. They are encouraged to reflect on each other’s posts, to debate or question and through doing so are exposed to others’ understanding in order to improve their own.

This type of activity is student-focused, where knowledge is not delivered by the lecturer, but developed through social interactions. Students will need to understand that the success of the activity, and hence their learning, will be dependent upon the contributions they make. One approach to address this would be to encourage students to establish ‘ground rules’ for participation at the start of the activity. These ground rules establish expectations for participation and the lecturer will also need to add their own ground rules as to how they will contribute and provide feedback on student work.

Setting expectations

Expectations can be set by the lecturer, or as described above, collectively agreed by students for longer term activities. By setting clear parameters for engagement, students become aware of the value of the activity through the way both lecturer and students are expected to contribute. At this stage in your learning design implementation, consider both expectations for students and staff:

Expectation checklist for students

  1. What to contribute (quantity, quality, how is this assessed/measured)
  2. Where to contribute
  3. When to contribute (deadline for each stage, e.g. initial contribution, reply, summary)

Expectation checklist for staff

  1. When contributions will be looked at (the cut-off point for student contribution)
  2. When feedback will be provided (this may be feedback or some other form of lecturer activity)
  3. Where and in what form the feedback will be provided (this could be in the face-to-face session, e.g. summary of discussion, addressing common misconceptions)

The instructions do not have to be extensive, as the following example shows.

Example: Expectation setting for a discussion activity

[Discussion topic, objective of the discussion, article and structured questions to consider would go here]

Make an initial post to the discussion board by Tuesday 23 June, identifying the key issue from the article you are exploring and justifying or challenging the point made. Then, respond to at least two people by Tuesday 30 June, providing an example from your own practice in support of or contrary to the issue highlighted.

Your seminar leader will review your contributions on Tuesday 30 June and the in-class discussion topic will focus upon selected similarities and differences between different practitioners.

Online interventions

E-Learning Walkthrough


Continuing the Seminar Discussion
Facilitating students’ ongoing discussion and reflection using blogs or discussion boards.

Case studies

E-Learning Walkthrough

Student engagement and communication through discussion boards

Discussion boards as a “democratic” approach to communication.
Dr Mark Coles, Biology
View Case Study

E-Learning Walkthrough

Discussion and debate to encourage critical evaluation

Departments of Biology, Archaeology and Health Sciences
View Case Study

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