We are about a month into the winter semester, which means we’ve already been assigned at least a few assignments for most classes and are aware of the course material. Something I have noticed more than ever is a disconnect between professors and their ability to clarify and explain what is expected from students in terms of assignments. I know that sounds odd and confusing, but let me clarify — irony intended.
Over my past three years here, through my major and minor course work, I have noticed a trend. Some professors are on top of their game and tend to over-explain what is expected from the course and assignments through emails, in-person class discussions and so on. Yet with some professors — even those you’ve taken a class with before — expectations, deadlines and assignments are unclear even with a seemingly understandable and reliable syllabus. This is especially prevalent in online classes with adjunct professors who don’t have office hours or in-person meeting opportunities for students to discuss course work or to address difficulties.
Now I understand that college is about being independent and that professors aren’t going to hand-hold to make sure you get assignments done or good grades, but that isn’t the point I’m trying to make. If I have a syllabus for an online class, I expect it to be a reliable outline of assignments, deadlines and homework assignments because that really is my only frame of reference. When professors stray from the syllabus by adding and dropping other assignments without much notice to the students, how is it possible for us to succeed without that knowledge?
The subsequent problem alongside this clarity issue is the tried and true, “just email me if you have any problems” response. I get it. If I really have a problem that a quick email can solve, I can send a quick email for clarification and problem solved, but if I am entirely confused about what assignment is due or when it is due and even what the assignment has to be about, that is kind of hard to explain in an email. Not to say I haven’t tried — I have — but the messages I send tend to be misconstrued, which is even more apparent in the responses I get back. That could be my fault or both our faults since it is hard to get your point across through text. Yet if after I’ve sent my fifth email asking for clarification about another assignment, I start feeling like a bother to that professor and start to feel like I’m getting on their bad side just for asking questions to understand what is required of me. I feel like I’m not trying hard enough and I start to get discouraged on top of my general frustration and disappointment for not being able to figure it out. I want to have my own independence as a student to complete assignments without guidance and with confidence that I did a good job. Not having that clarity affects that.
I’m not trying to bash our professors. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a full course load teaching over 100 students each semester, but on the other hand, I’m also not a mind reader. If I can’t figure out through the syllabus — the college student’s holy grail— what is required from me or there aren’t any notifications or announcements to changes, then how could I successfully complete assignments to the best of my ability? I want to do the best I can in my classes and this clarity issue is just leaving me feeling clouded.
Photo: T. Ngiuyen