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I usually have a good instructor-class relationship, but I am also an admittedly easy instructor - in previous classes my assessments have been on the easy side of fair. This term I have set very high expectations for my class and the class is doing exceedingly well. I am very impressed by their progress and their learning and professionalism is showing very clearly. Unfortunately, the students aren't as happy as I'd like them to be. I am getting the feeling that I've encouraged excellence through fear, and I'm cultivating frustration. Students who were expecting an easy class are instead being challenged more than in previous years, and the workload is considerable.

I would like to continue setting these expectations for my students, since I think the learning and progress is worth it. However, I also feel very strongly that the students should like and trust the instructor. What are some strategies I can use to increase student satisfaction while also maintaining very high standards?

I should note a few things:

  • I'm asking this in general, but the current class I'm talking about is a required course that students in this major have historically not seen as being relevant. I am working to increase the relevance to their discipline.

  • I have communicated to the students that I'm very happy with their progress and very impressed by it.

  • Did you give warning of the change before the add/drop deadline? Students may have planned what courses to take when taking into account the workload for your class in previous years. – Patricia Shanahan Jun 8 at 16:08
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Let me second the post of Massimo Ortolano and especially point 2. there. But you can do more.

One way to keep students happy, both the really hard workers and the strugglers, is to give them a second chance when they fail to live up to standards. One way to do that is to permit students to resubmit work with corrections after grading. My experience is that you can be as demanding as you want to be as long as students don't feel trapped or disadvantaged by what they see as small errors.

I've permitted students to resubmit work even after I've discussed the correct solutions in class. Just going through the motions of typing out the correct answers is an educational experience - reinforcement. I've usually permitted more than one resubmission of the same work. You need to set a limit, though, if students neglect new assignments to re-do old ones. A bit of balance is needed.

To be fair to those who get it right, it is also useful to extract a bit of tax on the re-work. Say, only 90% of the difference between the first marks and the full marks can be achieved through rework. This also keeps people from being lazy about deadlines.

Note, of course, that regrading requires that the number of students not be excessive and that you develop efficient ways to see what has been changed when re-work is submitted. I just had students submitting new work also submit the old (with my comments) as well as highlighting changes.


But with respect to the point of students needing a while to learn to live up to new and higher standards, I also experienced this when I brought new and higher standards to a new job. Students in a Masters program had gotten the idea that good grades were pretty automatic. They were a bit shocked when I told them that it was possible for all to fail and that I would read and comment on all of their work. It required backup from the Dean, actually. But it didn't take too long in my case. Word spread quickly.

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Consider two aspects:

  1. Students work hard without (too many) complaints and respecting the professor if they perceive that the professor is working hard too and that non only does they set expectations but also give a lot to the class, in terms of content (e.g. do you teach things they cannot easily find in textbooks or other similar classes?) and time.
  2. If your class has been known by the students to be an easy class, it will take them two-three years to adapt to the new situation.

Or, as once a student told me some years ago after an exam:"I feel ashamed for having studied so poorly after all the effort you put in the course".

That said, you will always find unhappy students who would have liked to study less.

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