Online Learning Pedagogy

Establishing Expectations

"Therefore, what manner of men ought yet to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am." - 3 Nephi 27:27

Why is it important to set expectations in your classroom?

As instructors, we can find ourselves in a difficult situation with students when certain expectations have not been clearly explained. Harry Wong, a speaker on education stated that “the thing about procedures is, it makes the class comfortable, it makes the class secure, because they all know what is going to happen in the classroom.” If we can establish strong expectations with our students in the first three weeks of class, we can create a more comfortable atmosphere because students won’t be guessing, they’ll know.

Expectations work both ways. The instructor expects certain things from her or his students, but the students should be able to have expectations of their instructor. Below are several examples pulled from other online universities and instructors about how they establish strong classroom expectations. The text has been modified to better fit our BYUI and Pathway classrooms, but you may want to tweak it further to fit your specific needs.

Some areas to consider when setting student expectations include:

  • Late policy
  • Time commitment by students
  • Methods for contacting instructor
  • 1-2 Common areas of struggle
  • Online etiquette
  • Academic honesty

Stagger Your Messaging

When setting expectations, it is helpful to stagger when you share your expectations to your students. Setting up a few in the beginning is critical, but trying to give them everything at once can overload your students and may not have the same impact otherwise. One online instructor mentioned how he likes to provide information such as classroom etiquette up front, but the late policy is shared in Week 2. This allowed the instructor to show some leniency the first week but to immediately begin establishing a stricter protocol for future assignments. As bigger assignments that students typically struggle with would come up, he would post an announcement early on demonstrating to students the quality he expected when they posted in discussions or engaged in self-reflection. 

  1. Setting expectations helps both the students and the instructor and builds on the online instructor standard of developing relationships with and among students.
  2. It is important to share these expectations early enough to give students a chance to prepare before engaging in the activity.
  3. Stick to what you say and help build trust and an expectation within your students about who you are as an instructor.

Please join us in a discussion below. Post how you try to set up expectations in your class. What are some stories on how this has helped you with managing your classroom and students? What are some warning stories you have for others about how and when to establish these expectations?

Example of Instructor and Student Expectation Messaging

Student Expectations

  1. Check the course announcement page, weekly lesson module, your email, and the course discussion board several times a week. 
  2. Post one initial post and three responses to the discussion board.
  3. Keep up with your reading assignments, application activities, teach a friend activities, and online quizzes (as applicable). These quizzes test your knowledge and comprehension of the new content. You may have [X] attempts at each online quiz, and will receive the highest score achieved. It’s OK for these to be open note, open book, but since you are limited in time to take them, you will do better if you have studied ahead. They must be finished by [XXX MST of XXX day] of the week in which they are assigned. It is your responsibility to keep track and submit these items in on time.
  4. Participate actively in class discussions. This means you are stretching the conversation by responding to your classmates posts and asking questions, sharing a similar experience (with details!), or sharing a gospel insight. Simply giving a vague agreement statement does not meet the requirement for a reply.
  5. Practice Netiquette: be polite and respectful in your postings (no “Flaming” or posting / sending negative, hurtful comments to others); use good grammar and correct spelling; don’t write in all caps (it feels like you’re shouting) or exotic fonts (they may not show up on everyone’s computer); In short, present your best self!
  6. Late work is allowed the first three weeks in GS 120. Afterwards, I will accept late work turned in with 72 business hours after the due date, with a 10% penalty off the total possible score for each day it is late. The exceptions to this are discussion boards and attendance gathering reports, which can not be turned in late at all.

Instructor Expectations

  1. I will read my email and the discussion board postings at least daily, but will not necessarily post messages or send out mail daily. 
  2. I will respond to your email no later than 48 business hours, but usually within 24 hours. 
  3. If you have a concern that I think others will benefit from hearing discussed, I will ask you to post it on the Questions and Conversations discussion board.
  4. You will receive a grade for your quizzes, discussion board, and assignments within a week of submission.
  5. You may reach me using the I-Learn instant messenger for concerns, as well as email me. If unavailable, you may call or text me at (XXX) XXX-XXXX. Please include your name in any text messages so I know who you are!

Keys to Success

Online courses are not easier or less time-consuming than face-to-face courses; they are just different. Here are some suggestions for your success:

  1. Set aside specific times during the week for this course--the best times that fit your schedule. Use this time for preparation (reading, studying, gathering preparation) and for participation (reading and posting messages and assignments, taking quizzes).
  2. Don’t put off the work--you need to keep up so you can more effectively participate in group and class discussions.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions--just like in a face-to-face class, there are probably several others who are wondering the same thing.
  4. Keep advised of when the I-Learn system is scheduled to “go down” for maintenance. Usually this is on a Saturday at 11 pm (MST). A scheduled computer outage is not a sufficient excuse for turning in work late.
  5. Check in and contribute to the class several times a week--this will keep you engaged, on-track, and moving steadily toward your goal!
  6. Let me know about any problems you are having right away so we can resolve them quickly.
  7. Have Fun!!!


Another example. Use with wisdom: 

How do you set up and manage your classroom expectations? 

What was something you learned or think you might incorporate from this training tip in your own classroom?

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  • I teach a GS 120 (Life Skills) class, and I have found that many students really fumble around with formatting their assignments correctly.  They have two assignments each week which requires them to write in a Word document and then upload it into I-Learn.  To try and mitigate the poor formatting and sloppy submissions, I put together a screencast to model how they should submit their work (see below).  So far, setting this expectations has helped a lot and has - in my opinion - helped more students complete their assignments more completely and correctly.  I think expectations are a great thing for students.  We're teaching students to exist and thrive within the academic setting and that requires expectations.

    Best Practice: Application Activity and Teach a Friend

    • Adam,

      I have the same problem in GS 120. It rather drives me nuts. I will definitely do this next time. Thanks for sharing!

    • Adam, thank you for sharing your video. What a great way to proactively help students. I have experienced the same kind of problems with my GS120 students. I have been referring them back to the instruction page, linked to my feedback, but that is a bit like the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than a fence at the top. I will have to see if I can make my own video and use it to help my students know before the assignment is graded, exactly what the expectation is. I know where to find you, if I need help!

      • Definitely!  Love the analogy about the ambulance.  I agree.  Getting out ahead of the problem has helped a lot

  • This is great information Tyler. I love the idea of staggering the information we send out to students. I tend to send a bunch of information in my first email, but then I add things in each announcement or email after that. Sometimes I send out too much, so I need to work on cutting down on that. I love to have students tell me what their challenges might be as we progress through the course. I have a student this semester who is dyslexic, so it is good to know these things up-front in order to help where I can. I tend to give feedback on every assignment, which might seem too much for some people, but I take that time to give students individual feedback on how they are doing and share expectations at that time. I find that students will read individual feedback faster than they will read group messages because this is specific to them.

    • Phyllis,

      Excellent points. I think I found a new item we can add to this training tip: Ask if any students have learning challenges. Sometimes this doesn't come out until more than halfway through the semester. By then, it is sometimes too late or at the very least a lot of work to try and adjust things for the student. If you know ahead of time, you can sometimes get the student tutoring or support to help them. It might also alter the way you approach grading and feedback for that student. Thanks!

  • Great suggestions. I added the following after point number one of Instructor Expectations. "I generally give students a chance to answer questions in order to facilitate the teaching/learning model before I jump in."

    • This is a good expectation to set so students are aware that you will be checking in on them. 

  • Thank you for the great ideas!  I appreciate you mentioning the idea to stagger the messages.  Spreading out the information over the first few weeks makes it much more manageable for the students.  

  • Very helpful. I have found setting expectations up early is a great service to my students and a time saver for me. I copied and pasted the keys for success and posted as an announcement. This is be a great review for my online students. Thanks!

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