The potential and the peril of student expectations

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2014-08-21 09.47.03

A scene from the Active Learning Classrooms at UNC Charlotte.

I have been low-level upset at recent discussion about the need for higher education institutions to respond to student expectations.  I had a bit of a rant about it on Twitter, for instance.


I was tweeting in an apprehensive way about “Student expectations” on the same day that there was a great deal of conversation going on about the death of tenure at Wisconsin universities, and the implications for higher education labor conditions and teaching and learning in that context.



And then the next day I started thinking about the problem of tying perceptions of effective education to “comfort” or “satisfaction” (other ways of talking about meeting student expectations).


I am seeing the connection between concern about “Student experience” and “Student expectations” as driven by these capitalistic, marketing framed approaches to education and how we decide what we should be doing for our students.  And I am distressed that “experience” and “expectation” seem to be edging out “education” as what we want Universities to be focusing on.

But, what about University expectations for their students?  What about educator-driven desires for their students?  What is our responsibility, given what we know students should be doing to become constructive citizens?  To what extent should we limit ourselves to or be driven by what is “expected” to be “experienced” by our students?  And what about linking the larger “experience” of others at university, of faculty and staff, of researchers and teachers–how can we make visible those experiences, and make it clear that those people and their work are crucial parts of educating students.

Student expectations are informed by their pre-university experiences.  And those are not uniform.  We have students with a variety of levels of experience and preparedness for what university education requires.  And we do not, as educators, have to buy the argument that the purpose of our work is to prepare students for “jobs.”  Our work, collectively, in higher and further education, is to provide students with experiences and support within those experiences to learn, to grow, to find and shape their voice, to be prepared to exercise citizenship, to live engaged lives, to shape their world in constructive ways.

I see people around me writing around this sort of concern, for example most recently Dave White, Peter Bryant, and Lindsay Jordan.  So, I’m glad I’m not alone.    But these concerns need to filter up, to become more a part of the conversation happening in policy and political areas around education.  We cannot continue to allow operational, transactional assumptions about “expectations” and “experience” to rule the day, and ruin the processes of “education.”