Expectations about expectations

The following is a transcription of a conversation between IQ (imaginary questioner) and Keith Kenney.

IQ:  How do you set a level of expectations for your students?

KK: I keep one eye on what potential employers need, and the other eye on past students’ performances in the same course. I set high expectations because the job market demands skilled employees who can think critically.

IQ:  Don’t students complain that your expectations are too high?

KK: Yes, all of the time. But I don’t expect students to instantly learn something new. I like to use the saxophone example. When I started to learn the sax, I took lessons, practiced, and after a year, the best I could do was play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Learning was not easy; nor was it quick. Therefore, I give students multiple chances to improve. For example, in my photojournalism class, students can redo an assignment as many times as they like. Each time I provide feedback and I explain how they can make their photos better. If students have the time and a desire to learn, they could redo every assignment until they receive a grade that would make them happy.

IQ:  But isn’t that a lot of work for them and for you?

KK: Of course. But it takes a lot of work to learn . . . and to teach. Don’t get me wrong. I hate grading, and I’ll become impatient if students keep handing in poor work. I suggest that students show their work to a classmate before letting me see it. Classmates can often point out basic problems and help fix those problems.

IQ:  So do students generally get As in your classes?

KK: No. They usually don’t have the time or motivation to try a second time, much less a third time.

IQ:  Well how do you motivate students?

KK: Good question. Whenever I see a sign of improvement, I praise a student’s effort. When students receive praise for doing something, they want to keep doing it. An A grade is not really praise. A written comment is better. A verbal comment is best because it shows that you’re personally interested in a student and it can lead to a conversation. Students in large lecture classes, with little interaction with their professors, are difficult to motivate.

IQ:  So do you enjoy seeing students outside the classroom?

KK: Of course! I want to really know the students and I want them to get to know me. I don’t want to be “the photojournalism prof.” I want to be “Keith.” Moreover, I believe that half of all learning for a course occurs outside the classroom. A class is a place and time when students and an instructor can easily interact together, but, ideally, interactions amongst students and between students and instructors occur far more often than class times.

IQ:  What happens when other professors expect more or less than you?

KK: You already know the answer—it creates problems. Let’s imagine that two instructors offer sections of the same photojournalism course in the same semester, and one has the reputation of low expectations, which is the same as saying that s/he gives high grades for average work. What happens? One, students in the low-expectation classroom will learn less. Two, unfortunately, more students will enroll in the low-expectation class. Professors need to communicate amongst themselves.

IQ:  It may be easy for a couple of profs to compare expectations about a course they both teach, but what about inconsistencies amongst all the courses in a major? I mean, what can you do if a photojournalism prof is tough, but the graphics prof is easy?

KK: The solution is coordination. A department’s faculty members should meet once a year at least in order to share their expectations. Students are not just taking individual courses—they are earning a degree—and administrators should ensure that the instructors and their courses are working together to provide the best possible education.

IQ: But how can instructors with very different courses “coordinate”?

KK: By sharing their learning outcomes and grading matrices. It may be difficult to compare the content of courses, but the language of learning outcomes is common for all courses at a university. Comparing grading matrices is more difficult. But one’s grading should match one’s learning outcomes, so commonalities exist. My undergraduate students at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina take approximately 40 credit-hours inside the school and 80 credit-hours from other colleges at USC. Students take courses at the 200-level, as well as the 300-, 400-, and 500-levels. We really push the higher level learning outcomes, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation during the upper-level courses.

IQ:  But aren’t you currently working at the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM) in Tbilisi, Georgia? Isn’t USC participating in a Journalism School Partnership program with CSJMM? Do faculty members at USC have the same expectations as the faculty members and students at CSJMM?

KK: Welllllllllllllll . . . if you think that coordination at the department level is difficult, imagine what it must be like coordinating expectations at the international level!

IQ:  OK. But how is it going?

KK: As I said before, I set high expectations because without high expectations people make little progress. I may meet some initial resistance, but when both parties work hard together, they can meet those high expectations. And the secret is to share learning outcomes and grading matrices because these are the key instruments in education.

IQ:  So are you helping CSJMM faculty members with their courses’ learning outcomes and grading matrices, and will they match the learning outcomes and grading matrices at USC?

KK: Yes, we’re working together on these things. And, yes, I hope we’ll end up with a good match.

IQ:  Well, good luck!

KK: Thanks!


About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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