Create a Class Policy to Set Expectations

Many faculty are experiencing difficulties with students not being engaged in their online classes.  Regardless of how many activities they incorporate into their teaching, students are not listening and won’t turn on their cameras.  In asynchronous classes, students aren’t logging into the class regularly and are constantly asking for extended deadlines and special treatment.

A possible way to alleviate this behaviour is to be sure the everyone, faculty and students, have the same expectations.  For example, a student may attend a synchronous class while driving and think they’re doing the right thing because they are attending class.  The faculty member, however, may see this as ridiculous because it’s dangerous, the student can’t participate in the activities, and can’t take notes during lecture.  These types of disconnects cause frustration as the semester progresses.

keyCreate a Class Policy

A class policy is a document created by you and your students that contains the expectations, procedures, and consequences for the class.  A class policy can make your students more self-directed, self-motivated, self-aware, and self-disciplined.

However, I don’t recommend you create the entire thing on your own.

The system you develop for your classes might make perfect sense to you, but you can’t assume that it will make sense to your students. So it’s best if you make part of the policy (the non-negotiable part) but then work with your students to create the rest. 

What Should Be Included in a Class Policy?

1For your part, think about all the things that haven’t been working in past online classes. 

  • Where are/were your misunderstandings with students? 
  • What frustrates you most about classroom management or your students? 
  • Where do you think you are becoming a babysitter for your students?
  • How do you define an engaged and participatory student?

These types of questions will get you started.

2Think about your categories that you want in your policy.
For example, web cam use, cell phone policy, attendance, class participation and interaction.  There are more listed below in the Sample Questions section.

3Create a template document.

  1. In this document, write up the policies that are non-negotiable (for example: attendance policy or no-late assignments)
  2. Then put the categories in that the class as a whole will create.

4On the first day of class, create this document

  1. I would recommend using small group work using Breakout rooms in Zoom if it’s a synchronous class and Group Discussion board if it’s an asynchronous class.
  2. Discuss it as a class if possible and you write up the final doc.
  3. Have one final vote on the document and have all students sign it and turn it in to an OAKS Assignment/Dropbox.  This gives some accountability.

5As the class progresses, if things start to falter, bring up the policy and discuss it with the class.  Remind them they agreed to it and signed it.  Reinforce it by discussing it throughout the semester.

Sample Questions:


  • What are your expectations for class discussion (synch/asynch)?
  • Would you like students to turn off their mobile phones in the classroom? What is your attendance policy?
  • How do you want students to address you?
  • How should they structure an email that they write to you?
  • What file formats are acceptable for assignments?
  • If you are teaching online, how do you want students to communicate with you and each other? 
  • How can students take responsibility for their learning and what does that even mean?
  • How can student come to class prepared and what does that mean?
  • What constitutes “attending class?”  (ex. Is being in the car acceptable?)

Great Resource

I found this resource on Classroom Management by Lisa Rodriguez, Ph.D. where she create a table of classroom issues and possible solutions.  Read this before creating your class policy to give you some great ideas.


1. Undermining the instructor’s authority

This is tricky as it speaks to “attitude.” A student might belittle the instructor or engage in a battle of the wills. This student would need to be privately told that their attitude was confrontational and asked how this might be resolved mutually.

“Be careful not to read most questions about content, interpretation, or assignments as a challenge of authority. Acting as it they are not, even when you suspect they are, can convey a sense of confidence and control. Sometimes merely assuring the student, while smiling, that you have indeed reflected on this issue at length and that they too will understand soon why the information or the assignment is valuable diffuses the situation. You may even want to encourage them to ask the question again at a later date if necessary.”

2. Leaving class too frequently Camps are divided as to whether or not students should ask for permission to leave for bathroom breaks or wait for a break in the class. I don’t require my students to limit their bathroom breaks or ask permission, however, this is contentious for some faculty when breaks are taken too frequently. You might privately ask the student if everything is OK so that they know that you are concerned by their behavior. Don’t assume disrespect – it might be a bladder infection or some other physical problem.
3. “Spacing Out” or Sitting With Back to Instructor If this is a repeated problem, students need to know that their non-verbal behavior is perceived as disinterest. You might ask them after class if they need a more comfortable seat. Some students are extremely shy and it might take half of the semester before they open up enough to make sustained eye contact or face the instructor completely. Remember also that sustained eye contact is a culturally dictated practice that might not be feasible for some students.
4. Poor hygiene (possible cultural considerations) Poor hygiene, too much perfume, cigarette odor or other strong odors can be distracting or even nauseating to students. The cause for the odor might be culturally based in bathing preferences between cultures. This can be a real problem for some faculty while others will never encounter the dilemma. I suggest letting the offending student know that in close quarters, some students have issues with strong smell. It might be suggested that for the course (not their outside of class lives) that the odor be masked in some way.
5. Verbal or physical threats

Verbal or physical threats are serious matters. They are discussed in detail by experts in the field in “Handling Crisis.”

As a general rule consult professional experts for assistance immediately.

6. Gum, Food, Pagers, and Cell Phone Disruption If decided upon by class, consequences for breaking this policy might range from the loss of participation points to the offender having to present on a topic of interest to the class. Some instructors allow pagers and cells to be on the vibrate setting as long as they are attended to at the break rather than used when it interrupts the class. Instructors need to abide by this rule as well and allow for at least one mistake per student as accidents do happen from oversight. The idea here is to prevent habitual disruption from gum popping and phones ringing.
7. Monopolizing Discussions This is common but manageable. Many students are excited and talkative so it might be good to give them a few class periods to settle in. However, if it’s evident right away that this is a trend, it’s best to ask them to stay after class. You might approach them initially by saying that you are pleased with the amount of enthusiasm they have for discussion but were hoping that they have suggestions for getting the other class members equally involved. The student will most likely get your drift with minimal humiliation.
8. Sleeping in class

Sleeping in class is usually considered rude. Most faculty believe it should not be tolerated and is best curbed up front by waking a sleeping student and asking them to step outside with you. Once there faculty often tell students that it’s best for the rest of the class if they return when they are awake enough to be an active participant. This occurs from time to time and you obviously are the one to choose lenience or punitive action. If it’s one of your more regularly involved students, perhaps give them an option of an extra credit research assignment they can bring to your next class period covering the subject matter they missed while they were sleeping.

An alternative approach is to assume that the student does not feel well, was up most of the night with a sick child, or has some other condition that results in sleepiness when still for long periods of time. You might simply choose to wake the student and ask them if they are feeling alright. To pull this off you need to approach it with true concern for the student’s health and well being. Most of the time, student’s are so embarrased and so appreciative of your genuine concern that they don’t let it happen again.

Encourage students to actively participate, take notes (explain that this is helpful to their learning as it stimulates memory in the brain) and in particularly long classes break up the session with activities or paired conversations about a topic to ensure that students stay engaged. Students don’t learn much from listening, so remember that the more they “experience” the learning process the more you are really teaching.

9. Repeated Tardiness: There should be clear parameters set around this issue up front – either in your syllabus or in the class decided norms. Stick to your guns on the policy. Some fair policies might include 3 tardies equals one absence.It might be best to discuss this with students individually; some are habitually late because they are dependant on bus routes or other drivers for transportation to school.
10. Refusal to Participate or Speak We cannot force students to speak in class nor participate in group projects. This can be addressed and become a win-win situation by either giving the student alternative options to verbal participation (unless it’s a speech class) or simply carefully coaxing some response out of them and praising whatever minimal effort you receive from them. Remember, some students are terrified to be in a class setting –especially if there are round tables rather than desks – allowing for little anonymity.
11. Sexual Innuendo, Flirting, or Other Inappropriate Suggestion This behavior should be curbed as soon as it occurs. It’s never comfortable to tell a student that they aren’t being appropriate and if you are uncomfortable, a short, positive e-mail or phone call might suffice. Your response should be not judgmental and you might discuss it with your department chair or faculty mentor before broaching it with your student.
12. Sharing/Copying Work In some cultures, students work together to produce homework. It may come as a shock to these students that they cannot submit identical work. This may also come as a surprise to couples, parent-child, siblings, or close friends. Be careful to give thought to how you will handle this before you encounter it and react as if it were intentional cheating. This can also occur when the class does a great deal of group work. Make sure you are clear about what is individual vs. group work in your assignments.
13. Plagiarism or Lying

Depending upon the class and the student’s prior knowledge of what plagiarism entails, some faculty issue an automatic F for the first instance, then expulsion from the class with a report to the department chair and division dean on a second instance. Most colleges have specific policies. Be sure to know you college policy before taking action.

Plagiarism should be outlined in your syllabus with a reference for students to the college catalog for more information.

14. Too Much Chit Chat Give 2-minute chat times for groups or before class begins let them know that you have material to be covered and that their talking isn’t helping you achieve your goals for the class. Know too that some students occasionally translate a word or phrase to a tablemate who might not have as strong an understanding of English, be patient and observant when curbing this behavior.
15. Disrespectful Behavior The reality is that sometimes students just plain won’t like you. You will find yourself in a conversation with yourself about why they don’t like you and treat you with disrespect. Animosity will perpetuate itself so remember your role and look for a way to positively invite the student to engage more deeply in the class. Perhaps offer them a special task based on a self-disclosed talent; for instance, a student whose hobby is Origami (Japanese paper folding) might lead a lesson on the art of following instructions.

One thought on “Create a Class Policy to Set Expectations

  1. Maxwin Slot

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