Balance High Expectations With Student Support

Bruner (1987) described a technique called 'scaffolding' in which a parent, teacher or older sibling would use language or concepts slightly advanced of a child’s existing ability in order to challenge the child to grow their understanding. As the understanding increased, the language or concept advanced as well. This method would continually challenge the child to learn new meaning, yet not overwhelm the child by using language or concepts too advanced for the child to grasp. Angelo (1993) applied this metaphor to the college environment, stating “Scaffolding is a useful metaphor for college learning, as well. The weaker or smaller the student's foundation (preparation) in the subject, the stronger and larger the instructional scaffolding (structure and support) that is required" (p. 7). Keep expectations of the students high, but provide ample support for those who have less exposure to or ability in the subject.

Examples of Sakai use

  1. Require students to do their own research of the subjects being studied. Have them research respected organizational or journal web sites and write a review to share in the Forums.
  2. Compile and share student-researched resources and post them in Resources or Forums. 
  3. Maintain high grading standards. In making and grading assignments, provide students with an assignment criteria or grading guidelines.
  4. Consider holding online-office hours and use the Chat tool.
  5. Assign students to Groups, create group folders in Resources, and give the groups the ability to save files as a means for students to work together. They can also use the Email tool to easily contact and support each other.
  6. Provide timely feedback to student questions and work.
  7. Post Frequently Asked Questions and responses on course topics and course procedures.
  8. Consider creating and encouraging the use of an open Forum to allow students to support each other.
  9. Consider using the glossary for terminology that is new to students and inform them that the glossary is active.
  10. Communicate how students should contact you for assistance, including whether you intend to use email, chat (online office hours), announcements or Forum postings, or other methods to provide instructional support. Specify how soon or on what days you check your email or Forum (or other method) and how quickly the student should expect a reply or posting from you.

General best practices of balancing high expectations with student support from current educational models

  1. "Even when learner ability or preparation or both are weak, expectations should remain high. To reach those expectations, less prepared students will need more and more explicit instructional 'scaffolding' such as tutoring, highly structured directions, and more personal contact with the instructor" (Angelo, 1993, p. 8). Encourage the better-prepared students to master their learning by serving as tutors, helping to create scaffolding for others, and to take more responsibility for their own learning through independent studies and special projects (p. 8). 
  2. Following a lecture or reading, Cross and Angelo (1993) suggest having the students write a "Minute Paper" to find out what students thought were the most important points and what questions they still have (pp. 148-153). This can provide useful information on where the students are getting lost so that the instructor can help them get back on track.
  3. Set expectations as to how to contact you for assistance.