Two sides of the same coin: Student expectations

Two sides of the same coin: Student expectations

Berg, Steven L

Laurent A. Parks Dafoz is a faculty member and Acting Director at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton,Washington. The Whidbey Institute cultivates creative leadership for Earth, Spirit and the Human Future.

Shauna Satin is currently a student at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As a student at Schoolcraft Community College, Sho was involved in student activities including Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) and the Schoolcraft Scholars Program. She provides the experiential point of view for the discussion of student expectations in college.

Laurent A. Parks Daloz, Ed.D.

Berg: What are some of the expectations instructors should know about that adult learners have when entering a community college classroom?

Daloz: I think in some senses there are as many expectations in a classroom as there are students. Community college students come with a wide range of expectations from the usual, very practical expectations that learning will be practical and immediately relevant and will help them get a better job, to expectations that they will simply learn what the faculty member has to teach them and they will do what they’re told and learn from the authority and follow instructions. There are expectations from other students who figure if the professor doesn’t say things that make sense to them, they won’t pay any attention and will speak their own personal truth and do their learning on their own. There’s a wide range of expectations that adults have when they come into a classroom, and I think the trick is identifying those expectations and deciding which to satisfy and which to frustrate.

Berg: So, next semester I go into my classroom and I’m figuring out some of these expectations. Which ones should I try to satisfy and which ones should I try to frustrate?

That’s a good question! And again, that depends on the mix of the particular students’ learning needs as well as the particular type of class and the instructor’s preferences. Let me give you an example. Many community college students, particularly younger students, will enter class with the expectation that the instructor has the answers and that their job as learners is to absorb the truths from the instructor’s mouth. That’s an expectation that instructors may want to frustrate . . . gently. They may feel that the students’ job is to take authority into themselves and expect less from external authority. The instructor may really want to encourage the students to internalize authority as a part of their own

Berg: It seems that some of that is more common in my younger students than in the adult learners.

Daloz: Yes, good. I agree with you about that-it usually is the case that younger students tend to be more authoritarian than older ones.

Berg: Why is that?

Daloz: In part, because the younger ones are fresher out of high school and high schools teach that you have to be taught in order to learn. That is, conventional high schools tend to be more authoritarian in their approach. However, it also is because we’re dealing with a developmental difference here. Part of growing up intellectually involves moving away from easy rights and wrongs, goods and bads, dualistic kinds of thinking, to more complex forms of thought. So, adult students have had more years in which to do that kind of learning than 18-year-olds have.

Berg: One of the things that I notice in working with adult students is that there are a lot of conflicts with work and family. What do we need to do to help accommodate that and also how can we teach students to make the appropriate decisions or help them balance work, family and college?

Daloz: I think first the faculty must recognize that students, particularly the older students, are living very complex lives. If they miss a class or haven’t been able to do an assignment or are finding the reading overwhelming, it’s not simply because they are lazy or there’s something wrong with their character. Community colleges are generally very strong at this, much better than traditional colleges.

Secondly, I think most adult education programs these days do incorporate opportunities for the assessment of prior learning.

Berg: Dr. Light, of Harvard University, has written a book entitled Making the Most of College. In the book, Dr. Light talks about what students expect. It was interesting to hear the reaction of my adult students to the book. They said things like, `All these students at Harvard have to do is go to school,” and “These students at Harvard live in the dorm so they can do group projects.” None of them said, ‘The students at Harvard are at a university and we’re at a community college.” It was more, “They’re full time students, but we have complex lives.”

Daloz: Good for your students, I say! They ought to write him a letter. Dick is a lovely guy, and very thoughtful, but I know that his research, the work that he’d done previously was always on traditional undergraduates and you know, it’s a vastly different world. Not only is it Harvard as opposed to a less prestigious institution. The bigger fact is what your students point out, that they’re traditional-age students on a campus. It’s very different.

Berg: We have that dynamic at the community college: these students with the complex lives coming in, trying to do all of the juggling…

Daloz: I think I’d said earlier the first thing that’s important is that faculty recognizes the difference and that lives are complex. The second thing is, that programs based on assessment of prior learning are a very important part of acknowledging the value of experience that students bring with them when they come to college. A third thing is, I think good community college instructors are much more likely to try to incorporate assignments, incorporate students’ lives into their assignments and to have students do projects and do studies that are linked with real life, with the everyday living and interests of students. A simple example: if you’re teaching child development and you’ve got a mother in the class with three- and five-yearold children, one thing the mother ought to be doing is a project or paper that involves looking at her own children through the lenses of several different child development theories. That kind of a thing in which students’ everyday life is included in their studies is one way to give it relevance and also to help them hold their busy lives together with study.

Berg: Recognizing that our adult learners are developmen tally different from the traditional-aged students and also have more complex lives, what can we do to convey that there are also some expectations ofclass attendance? For example, how can we help the student who says, “My boss keeps telling me I have to work.”

Daloz: Well, I think what you don’t do is establish a double standard. You don’t give that student breaks that you wouldn’t give to others. You have to treat people fairly in your class, but by the same token, I think you absolutely need to be flexible and to figure out other ways that the student can meet the assignment or can do the work and achieve the learning even though he or she can’t put in the class hours.

Berg: If I were working with one of the adult learners, would I have to worry about the traditional-aged student feeling like I was “cutting deals”?

Daloz: If there’s a way to be clear about outcomes and to emphasize that success or failure in the class depends on outcomes rather than class hours, then you can side-step that issue. In other words, “It’s your performance that counts.” That can make some difference in dealing with the traditional student who may feel a little bent out of shape because an older student wasn’t there as often.

Berg: So people know the work is being done, I don’t do anything behind closed doors in my office. I think that’s helpful.

Daloz: Yes, that’s good. What I heard you say that is really key is to make sure the work is being done. In other words, your emphasis when you’re doing that is you still have to do the work even though your 18-year-old student may be doing the work in a different way than your 40-yearold student.

Berg: This semester I have an adult learner who changed jobs and has had to leave town a numher of times because of work. He is doing a significant amount of research on his own to cover the material we covered in class. Because ofhis willingness to do that, it’s something we can work with.

Daloz: You know, that raises another interesting question, Steven, and that is the difference between traditional educational models and adult education models. The effort with traditional education design is to provide a broad education; that is, to cover a whole lot of bases without necessarily getting too deeply into any area of concern. With adult learners, particularly through individualizing instruction or the kind of thing you’re talking about, there is the tendency to go deeper, sometimes, at the cost of breadth. It’s as though the education ought to cover an equivalent amount of area, but with some students the area may be broad and somewhat shallow whereas for other students it may be deep and somewhat narrow. Now obviously, you’re aiming for some optimal balance of both depth and breadth, but I think that’s simply a reality that we have to recognize in working with different kinds of learners: for both practical and pedagogical reasons, younger students may end up with relatively broad, relatively shallow educations and our adult students may end up with deeper, but perhaps narrower, educations.

Let me ask you, Steven, briefly. From your vantage point at a community college, do you find yourself still having to make the case for the difference between traditional aged students and adult learners?

Berg: What I see is that we know they are different, and you’ll hear people-myself included-saying “It’s nice to have a night class” because “night class” pretty much equals “adult learner.” But I don’t think that we’ve looked at the differences between adult learners and traditional students, particularly in terms of development.

Daloz: Let me mention one thing which occurred to me as I was talking and then I dropped it. The question of age and development depends on what your developmental theory is as to how much difference age makes. I talked a little in the book and it’s out there in the literature about a difference between phase and stage theories. If you think of development as a set of tasks-like getting a job, getting married, having children, going through a mid-life crisis, being advanced in your job or losing your job-that people achieve as they go through their lives, development is clearly age-related. The older you get, the more likely you’re going to have these things happen. Whereas, if you’re talking about the kinds of developmental change that Perry or Kegan talk about, you can very readily have a 40-year-old student who is cognitively simpler than a 25-year-old student. It’s not inevitable that one grows cognitively or intellectually as one ages. In that sense it’s quite possible that a community college faculty member could have a 40-year-old student who is much less intellectually sophisticated than a 25-year-old.

Berg: Just because they haven’t lived long enough, the chances are that the 18- or 19-year-old fresh out of high school is probably not going to be more intellectually developed than the 25-yearold or the 40-year-old.

Daloz: Yes, that’s right. You’re also dealing with probabilities and odds. Certainly if you were to take a cohort of 18- to 20-year-olds, you’ll find that, in terms of intellectual development, they’ll generally be at an earlier position than a group of 40-year-olds, but, the tails of the curve will overlap considerably. That’s why it’s important for faculty members to just be alert-I can think of lots of mid-age students I’ve had who were basitally, in Perry’s terms, pretty “early multiplistic.” In other words, they were really pre-relativistic thinkers. Whereas you can have a thoughtful 23- or 24-year-old who can be quite a well-developed relativistic thinker. It’s important for us to recognize that age does not necessarily convey wisdom.

Berg: Moving to a different topic, would you briefly describe what a reader of The Community College Enterprise would get ifhe or she then were to go read your book, Mentor?

Daloz: I would say they would get primarily a combination of stories and conversations with students along with an overview of some prominent developmental theories. It gives a taste of one particularly satisfying activity for teachers who really care about the development of their students.

Berg: And what would you see as the difference between someone who’s a teacher and someone who is working as a mentor?

Daloz: I like to say that really, all teachers may be mentors … Teachers may be mentors and mentors are generally teachers. But not all teachers are mentors by any means and probably shouldn’t try to be.

Berg: How would I act toward my students if I were trying to take on the role of mentor?

Daloz: What characterizes mentoring in the higher education realm is the mentor’s concern with the growth and development of the person she’s working with.

I would say what mentors are trying to do when they’re at their best is to help the student grow through their content field, help the student grow intellectually through the use of content. But the primary emphasis is on the intellectual growth of the student. It’s really important to point out that if I’m a teacher in a class of 20 or 30 students, I may become a mentor for very few of those students. Mentoring takes time and people should not be under the impression that somehow if you’re going to be a mentor, you’re expected to be an inspiration and a personal coach and a guide for everybody in your class. It isn’t going to happen.

Berg: I could see instructors, when they first hear of mentoring, thinking, ‘At the community college, we could have 100 to 150 students a semester. How can I mentor all these people? It’s not physically possible.” You’re saying, of course …

Daloz: Of course it’s not. I think there are several ways to think about it. One way is to recognize that out of maybe 150 students, you may only become a real or valuable mentor for a handful. But you may have mentoring moments with more than that. Or you may be partially a mentor for still other students. In other words, I think it’s valuable to get away from thinking of the mentor in the kind of whole, complete way that I wrote about in the book and recognize that mentoring happens in a number of different ways. It may occur in a brief conversation for some students. It may occur in regard to just one aspect of a student’s life. It may take place over only six months or it may last for years. That is, in some ways it’s useful to think of mentoring as a function rather than a property of a particular individual person.

Berg: The people whom I know that are serious about teaching can become overwhelmed thinking, “To be my best I have to be this for everybody.”

Daloz: Yes, it’s crazy.

Berg: And I can’t do that.

Daloz: In fact, that may be one of the shadow sides of mentoring-the tendency of some of us to think that we can have that kind of power in the lives of our students, and that’s really hubris. That’s grandiosity and we ought be very cautious about it. First of all, we don’t have that kind of influence in folks’ lives, for the most part, and secondly, we shouldn’t. By the same token, we can be very important for some people at some times in their lives and that’s a huge gift.

Berg: Dr. Light tells his advisees that their job is to get to know one professor a semester.

Daloz: Good for him!

Berg: What are things that students could do to facilitate getting a mentor or turning one of their professors into a mentor?

Daloz: I think the first thing is to be very thoughtful about the alignment between their own interests and those of the mentor. In most cases, a mentoring relationship is more likely to take if it involves a shared interest between the student and the professor. That’s not always the case. The interest may not be subject matter. It may be that a mother with young children may feel very drawn to a slightly older female faculty member who has children slightly older and in whom she sees a kind of a model; someone who can help her juggle her children while she’s doing her studying and becoming a professional in the world. In other words, the appeal may not be that they share an interest in world history or something. But my advice to a student seeking a mentor would be, “Seek some shared interest or passion,” or someone who shares an interest or passion. Let them know that this is of interest to you because mentors, I think-all older people in general-are quite drawn to others who share their interest and want to learn more about it.

Berg: I think that sounds like a good place for us to end.

Daloz: Steven, if you’ve got faculty members who want to continue or have further dialogue on ideas I’ve written about either in Common Fire or the Mentor book, tell them to send me an email! I’m busy, and it may take a while to get back to them, but I’m not inundated with people who read the book and want to talk about it and I’m very happy to do that.

Larry Parks Daloz is the author of Mentor: Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners (Jossey-Bass, 1999), and co-author with Sharon Daloz Parks and Cheryl and Jim Keen, of Common Fire: Lives of

Commitment in a Complex World (Beacon Press, 1996), a study of how people come to care for the common good. Contact him at

1 Light, Richard J. (2001). Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

2 Perry, W.G., Jr. (1970). Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Kegan, Robert. (1994). In over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Harvard University Press.

Shauna Satin

Berg: How would you respond to news reports that talk about the decline in education?

Satin: I don’t think students are so negative toward education. They just haven’t found something that truly interests them. Or, perhaps, the education that they’re getting hasn’t touched them in a way that motivates them to think about issues, to come up with solutions, or somehow interact with the subject. I was even in that state where I was looking for something else. I was looking for another subject to interest me and I wanted teachers not to tell me what to think, but wanted them to encourage me how to think about issues.

Berg: Can you think ofany particular example where a teacher did a good job?

Satin: I had a Humanities teacher, and I took that class for an elective. I didn’t really think I would learn a great amount of information, but that actually ended up being the class where I learned the most and I have carried it with me through the rest of my life. It was not so much the miscellaneous facts about artists and music and the different aspects of life, but the teacher would ask us our opinions, or he would give us an issue with various arguments or sides. It wasn’t that he was imposing his point of view of that argument. Rather, he was giving us various sides of an argument and then asking our opinion of it and how we would approach that argument and what our backups would be. Those are the classes I learned the most from-actually using my head to do something.

Berg: I’ve seen the argument that, as a college freshman or sophomore, you really don’t know enough to have an opinion.

Salin: I agree with that somewhat. Right now I’m taking a class and that’s how I feel. The professor often asks for arguments or ideas and I feel like I honestly don’t know enough yet to present any ideas on any of the subjects. So, I agree that you do have to listen to your professors because they obviously know a lot about the subject and they’ve been through that experience. But I think it’s important students get the chance to express their ideas and have the option to argue as well.

Berg: There seems to be some difference between the style of the teacher that you had for Humanities and one you currently have because you said both of them were asking you for your opinions. You thought one was a good class and one you’re not as comfortable with. What’s the difference in style?

Salin: It’s not that one class was better than the other. When I took the Humanities class, I did have some previous knowledge, but that’s not what necessarily made it a good class…. I’ve had [the kind of instructor] who automatically assumed the students weren’t interested in the subject.

Berg: Asa student, what is your reaction to a teacher who makes that kind of assumption?

Salin: It bothers me. I’ve actually spoken up and I don’t think many students would. One professor said, “Well, you know, probably none of you are going into this field so we can skip this jargon and skip this issue.” I just raised my hand and said, “Actually, I’m really interested in this field and I would like to hear it if you don’t mind.” In hindsight, the issues that he was skipping weren’t incredibly important, but I was upset that he made such an assumption. I felt that if a student is taking this class, either they are interested in it or they need to take it. You can’t just assume that if it’s required that they aren’t interested.

Berg: My experience is that students often live up to the expectation 1 have of them. Those assumptions can impact a class. What kind of advice would you give an instructor who goes into class assuming that the current crop ofstudents doesn’t have an interest in thinking or content?

Salin: It’s been my experience that sometimes teachers underestimate the students and their ability. Any teacher should walk in the classroom and treat students as if they were apprenticed under them and teach them in an interesting and fun manner with a lot of collaboration between the teacher and the students. I think that you’re trying to bring students into your world and give them a new point of view and a new sense of perspective on the subject.

Berg: If there were an article on this in the Journal, we would call it “mentoring.” Do you have any examples ofsome good mentoring that you had as a traditional student?

Salin: Yes, I think of Josselyn Moore and Faye Schuett. When I first started Schoolcraft, I had no idea what I wanted to do or what subjects really interested me, so I purposely took a lot of subjects that I had no idea about. That’s where I first met Josselyn and I really enjoyed her class and learned a lot from her. I asked her a couple of questions about anthropology and sociology and about how she got where she is. She asked me what I was planning on doing and I wasn’t sure. She encouraged me to try the field, to take some more classes. Faye, the honors program coordinator, also encouraged me to follow up and do projects to take education outside of the classroom.

Berg: I couldn’t help but note that when you are talking about Josselyn Moore, that you referred to her as “Josselyn, ” and not “Professor Moore.” Do you think it’s important to the relationship?

Salin: Josselyn made me feel like I was a colleague. And I’ve found with a lot of other students, from just talking to them, that they actually like that. They appreciate a first-name basis, although not all of us would feel comfortable doing that. There are some professors that I do still refer to as “Professor Such-and-such.” I don’t feel comfortable on a first-name basis yet.

Berg: I could see someone reading this interview and responding, “Well, isn’t that disrespectful?”

Salin: When I meet somebody, I always call them by their last name. I would say, “How are you doing, Professor Berg?” I don’t use their first name unless they say, “Oh, you can call me Steve.”

Berg: So it really seems that the first-name basis comes as a result of ha ving respect for the person.

Salin: It comes as a result of actually forming a relationship with them.

Berg: Dr. Richard Light tells the students he advises that one of their jobs each semester is to get to know one faculty member. It sounds like you would agree with that advice.

Salin: I would. Actually Irm trying to do that right now. At Schoolcraft, because they have much smaller classes, I did have the opportunity to get to know my professors: their backgrounds, their opinions, what they thought. I got to speak with them more frequently and, again, developed that relationship between us. We could talk freely about things and I could get their thoughts and advice and learn about their experiences more easily. Now I’m finding it very hard to do at the University of Michigan, especially when I’m in classrooms with 300 people. It is harder to get to know the professor and you don’t feel that close; you feel like a number. I personally don’t like that feeling because I enjoy going to class more when I’m hearing it from somebody who I know on a personal basis. I’m really trying to make their office hours to get to know them a little bit.

Berg: Going to office hours is a great way to get to know an instructor, but I could imagine a student asking, “Okay, Igo to the professor’s office hours. But what do I say? I don’t have a question. ”

Salin: Actually, I’ve found that a lot of my professors are pretty good about that. Because they would like to get to know their students as well, they often say, “Come to my office hours, even if you don’t have a question.” I think that’s wonderful. If a student doesn’t have a question, they can just walk in and say, “Hi. I’m so-and-so and I just wanted to meet you.” Tell the instructor that you like the class or that you find the subject interesting. Give some sort of opinion. Ask them about themselves. For example, “I was wondering where you received your college degree.” Eventually it will lead to more conversation. It seems harder to make that first step than it really is.

Berg: Last semester during finals week, I had a student show up at my door to say, Tve enrolled in your class next semester and I wanted to say ‘hello.”‘I walked into class and knew him just from that! I think that helps.Because he took that initiative, it helped the relationship.

Salin: I think so, too. I’m trying to look at it from a professor’s point of view as well. If I were a teacher and I received countless numbers of papers, I think it would be nice to put a face to that paper, to know who wrote it and where they’re coming from.

Berg: I want to go back to what you were saying about the larger classes. What can we as professors do to make our students feel welcomed, even before we know their names?

Salin: In a class that size?

Berg: Even in the classes I teach, I have 120 students a semester, and until projects and things start coming in, it’s hard for me to learn names. But don’t want my students to feel like a number or think that I’m unapproachable. What kind of advice can you give to help bridge that gap?

Satin: I always appreciate it when professors come into the classroom on the first day and tell a little bit about themselves. It doesn’t have to be a huge autobiography, but a little something about themselves and what they’re hoping to accomplish within the classroom. Also, when they go around the room and ask each person their name and maybe a little bit about themselves, it makes the students feel more included.

Berg: Some people have suggested that many of our students are more advanced than we are in terms of technology. Do you think that students perceive that as a problem?

Salin: Sometimes students are frustrated with it, but I don’t think they hold a grudge about it.

Berg: Where does that frustration come from? What specifically are students frustrated about or what would they like to see?

Salin: I suppose it depends on the field-I’m not quite sure because I, myself, am not frustrated.

Berg: Okay, but what are some of the things that you’ve heard.

Salin: My brother, for instance, was just born with a natural gift for technology and understanding it. When he went to school he was frustrated because he felt he was ready to master something else and yet he was still being required to do the basics. He would often tell his professor, “I understand this stuff and I’m ready to move on,” and then he’d find out, “Well, my teacher doesn’t even know this!” I think a lot of students understand the time gap and how it happened. I think they understand that they have become the technology generation and that the professors are playing catch-up. I think they’re frustrated, but they don’t hold a grudge and I think they do understand about the generation difference.

Berg: Do you think that there’s any minimal technology that we should know?

Salin: Email is probably a huge one.

Berg: Why is that?

Salin: A lot of times now-at least with my professorsif you’re going to be absent for a class, they would like it if you emailed them and let them know you’re going to be absent. And they also like email in the sense that you can still send your assignments in on time as an attachment. I think they’re trying to be more helpful toward students, maybe, who have forgotten their assignments and they don’t want their students to drive home and drive all the way back, so they say, “You know, you can just email it to me.”

Berg: On a couple of occasions I have suggested that students e-mail me something they forgot and they were just shocked.

Salin: Students really appreciate it. I mean, everyone has “those days”…. I think teachers should also know how to work a VCR.

Berg: I’m laughing because VCRs defeat me. I have three buttons to push on the ones in the classrooms in which I teach and Inever push them in the right order.

Salin: See? Wouldn’t it be good to actually know how?

Berg: Well, I try so hard and it’s always a source of amusement for students. They get to laugh at me as I, once again, put on Jenny Jones rather than whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing.

Salin: That’s understandable, but at least you try.

Berg: We really should know what’s going on.

Salin: I had a professor recently who is playing catchup with technology. He would be showing us a PowerPoint presentation and it never went right. In order to go back to a previous slide, he would close out the entire thing and have to re-open it and have to search again for the slide. The students were kind of like, “Why is he doing all that?” But, after class, somebody showed him what to do. That was nice, and that was just touching on the topic of how they should become more familiar with PowerPoint and the equipment in the classroom.

Berg: Why do you think it’s important for students to be involved in Phi Theta Kappa and other activities and organizations?

Salin: They are learning things that cannot be learned in the classroom. I think that was one of the main things that I learned from Schoolcraftthat by working in the organizations, I learned how to deal with people in the real world, under real circumstances, in real situations. There was no class or textbook that could ever tell me how to handle a situation, how to confront people about different issues, and then also how to take action. I guess accomplishing our visions, whether it be setting up an event, or creating events, or creating awareness among the community, is the most important skill I learned from my involvement. You know, that’s not something you do in the classroom. It’s not something that’s ever taught. So, I think, if you want to be a well-rounded person and explore your strengths and your weaknesses and develop who you are as a person, then you want to explore all options of education. I always think of education as the entire sum of your cultural experiences. It’s the sum of what you do, how you go through life, your decisions, your choices and how you came to those choices….

Berg: That sounds like a good place to end Again, I want to thank you for taking time this afternoon.

Steven L. Berg

Dr. Berg is on instructor of English and history at Schoolcraft College.

Copyright Schoolcraft College Spring 2002

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