Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Be transparent about expectations

Research has shown that students perform better when they know what is expected of them (Kang et al., 2016; Winkelmes et al., 2016). While all students benefit, being explicit about expectations from the start particularly helps students with diverse backgrounds understand both course expectations and cultural or disciplinary norms for each assignment.

  • Use your syllabus to establish your learning objectives and general course expectations for all aspects of the class. Go through it with your students on the first day, or create a homework assignment around it.
  • Talk to your students about the norms of your discipline, even if they seem obvious to you. Some common norms that can vary widely depending on the field include writing conventions (who is the audience and is there a standard set of guidelines for how papers should look be organized?), research and citation conventions (how should research be presented in a student paper or report?), and what a “good” grade looks like (curved tests versus standard grading).
  • Create and share rubrics in advance for written assignments and presentations.
  • Dedicate time in class for students to discuss and ask questions about assignments or assignment expectations.
  • Emphasize the larger purpose or value of the material they are studying/assignments they are completing.
  • Give feedback early and often. Encourage students to come to you (or their TA) with questions.


Kang et al. 2016 “Transparency and Problem Solving: The UHD Experience”

Winkelmes et al, 2016 “A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success”

GO TO:  Universal Design for Learning  |  Stereotype Threat  |  Imposter Syndrome  |  Culturally Responsive Teaching