Your first impression of academic life in the United States may be confusing. Some students may find the classroom very informal but the professors very demanding. Creativity, tolerance, and flexibility are, in general, valued above tradition.
Teaching styles and classroom attitudes vary and can be influenced by different factors. These differences may not be evident to people coming from different traditions. International students who are new to the U.S. education system will benefit by reviewing the following information about academic life at Montclair State University.
Professors make up the core of teaching staff at Montclair State University and other universities. Full professors generally teach lecture courses, seminars, and courses for graduate students. They may teach some undergraduate courses as well.
Any teacher’s informal dress or style should not be taken to mean that they have a relaxed attitude to assignments, class attendance or the quality of your work. Informal attire and the use of first names are common in the U.S. classroom; this all depends on the individual and their preferences.
In certain cases, graduate students (graduate assistants or teaching assistants) may assist lectures in teaching undergraduate classes or guiding laboratory sessions. You should feel free to ask their advice on course work or grades. Do not hesitate to ask them questions regarding your class work.
American Classroom Behavior
American students may not behave the same way in class as you and your fellow students did. In the American system, most teachers welcome students to speak in class and ask questions or express their opinions and knowledge. Just like the American culture, you may find the American classroom to be more casual than you are used it in your home country. For example, you may have to get used to people referring to some (not all) teaches by their first name. This is not a sign of disrespect.
Tips for Success in the U.S. Classroom
- Observe your class to determine the professor’s approach to learning. Is it learner-centered (usually in social sciences, humanities, education courses) or teacher-centered (sometimes in the sciences and math)? Does the professor encourage open discussion or mostly lecture? How do most of the American students behave in the class? Use your observations to guide how you will behave in that class.
- In a learner-centered classroom - Your job is to: Attend all classes; listen; take notes; read; think critically; express your knowledge; ask questions when you need clarification; participate in class discussions; show that you understand the material; make presentations; or produce written assignments.
- How to speak up in class - American professors generally welcome discussion and critical reasoning. The manner in which your point of view is expressed is important. Do not be overly critical; acknowledge other people’s points of view and then offer your own. Remember that class participation is important. Ask for help if you don’t understand something. Professors will notify students of their office hours, and these times are scheduled so that students can meet with their teachers to discuss class work or ask for assistance. Be patient with yourself, earning a degree in a second language is a challenge!
Know the content of the course and speak independently about it. You can practice this at home or in a group of friends. Before class, think of some questions or comments you want to ask. It is okay to disagree in class but be prepared to back up your opinion with reasons. Disagreements often show that you have thought critically about a topic. Your opinion is valued and helps the professor determine if you are learning. Your professor will often feel more successful if the students participate in discussions.
- If you are shy or worried about your English skills, speak to the professor outside of class or during office hours. Most professors will appreciate this and will offer suggestions to help you get the most out of the class. You will need to take some risks if you are not used to it but your shyness and English skills will improve over time.
- Communicate directly and clearly. Maintain direct eye contact with your classmates and your professor. Speak loud enough so everyone can hear what you have to say. In the U.S., directness and honesty are considered polite and are required for success in the classroom.
- Your writing should be clear and direct. Use the Center for Writing Excellence at Montclair State. It is located in Sprague Library, 1st floor. For more information, go to: www.montclair.edu/cwe/
- Plagiarism – Understand the serious repercussions of plagiarism and cheating in the U.S. classroom. For more information, go to: www.montclair.edu/writing/firstyearwriting/academicintegrity
- Homework and Assignments - Most courses will require two hours or more of extra work to be done on your own for each hour of class time. Regular class attendance and good note-taking skills are important and will help you be a good student. Pay close attention to instructions as to how the class will be conducted and grades determined. You will receive a syllabus from the teacher at the beginning of the class. This will point out the course objectives, due dates for tests or assignments, examination dates, texts and supplies that must be purchased for the class and the teacher’s name and office hours. Keep the syllabus for the duration of the course.
Resource: U.S. Classroom Culture, NAFSA, Assoc. of Int’l Educators; J. Leighton 3/2010
Lectures and Classes
Lectures are the main form of classroom instruction at Montclair State University. Lecture courses may enroll as many as eighty students or as few as fifteen students. You are expected to attend all your classes. If lecture material is closely related to reading assignments, reading the material before the class should help you understand the topic. If you are having trouble with spoken English, consider recording the lecture on a handheld tape recorder. Make sure you ask your professor’s permission to record the lecture.
Some classes may consist of discussion sections where students will discuss or review the material presented in the lecture. Class participation is important, if you are not confident enough to discuss a topic, at least be prepared to answer certain questions on the topic.
In independent studies or research courses, students study a topic under the direction of a professor, but with no classroom instruction. These types of courses are generally for graduate students. Such a course would require a lot of reading or laboratory work.
Quizzes, Tests and Examinations
Quizzes are short tests on a particular topic or a section of material from the class. “Pop quizzes” are unannounced tests which are given by professors to see how students are coping with their course work.
Examinations can consist of short answer questions or essay based answers. Some professors use multiple-choice exams where you will be asked to record your answers on a machine-readable form. In such cases, make sure you know how to mark the answers on the form. Students have been known to fail tests be because their answers were put in the wrong place.
The homework assigned in a course depends on each lecturer’s mode of teaching. Sometimes, students are asked to write research papers; this may be difficult for those who have trouble expressing themselves in English. Students should become familiar with using the research facilities of the library and the American style of writing. Montclair State University has a writing lab located in Dickson Hall to assist with written assignments. Many American students will also share these problems; so do not be afraid to ask for help.
Cheating and Plagiarism
When writing a paper, care must be taken not to copy other people’s ideas and words. This is known as Plagiarism, and is considered a serious offense in the United States. The consequences of copying someone else’s work or ideas must be clearly acknowledged and documented.
The following Code of Conduct Guidelines are from the Montclair State Student Code of Conduct.
Academic dishonesty is any attempt by a student to submit as his/her own work that which has not be completed by him/her or to give improper aid to another student in the completion of an assignment, i.e., plagiarism. No student may intentionally or knowingly give or receive aid on any test or examination, or on any academic exercise that requires independent work, or use improperly use technology (i.e., instant messaging, text messaging, or using a camera phone) prohibited materials of any sort to give or receive aid on a test or examination.
The following are examples of academic dishonesty:
1. Copying from another student's paper.
2. Using materials on a test or examination not authorized by the instructor.
3. Collaborating with any other person during a test or examination without authorization by the instructor.
4. Knowingly obtaining, using, buying, selling, transporting or soliciting, in whole or in part, the contents of a non-administered test or examination.
5. Coercing any other person to obtain a non-administered test or examination, or to obtain information about such an examination or test.
6. Substituting for another student, or permitting any other person to substitute for oneself to take a test or examination.
7. Altering test answers and then claiming the instructor improperly graded the test or examination.
8. Collusion or purchased term papers: Collusion, the unauthorized collaboration with another person in preparing work offered for credit, is academically dishonest. Montclair State University prohibits the preparation for sale and/or subsequent sale of any term paper, thesis, dissertation, essay or other assignment with the knowledge that the assignment will be submitted in whole or in part for academic credit.
9. Plagiarism: Plagiarism is defined as using another person's words as if they were your own, and the unacknowledged incorporation of those words in one's own work for academic credit. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to, submitting as one's own a project, paper, report, test, program, design, or speech copied from, partially copied, or partially paraphrased work of another (whether the source is printed, under copyright in manuscript form or electronic media) without proper citation. Source citations must be given for works quoted or paraphrased. The above rules apply to any academic dishonesty, whether the work is graded or ungraded, group or individual, written or oral.
The following guidelines for written work will assist students in avoiding plagiarism:
(a) General indebtedness for background information and data must be acknowledged by inclusion of a bibliography of all works consulted;
(b) Specific indebtedness for a particular idea, or for a quotation of four or more consecutive words from another text, must be acknowledged by footnote or endnote reference to the actual source. Quotations of four words or more from a text must also be indicated by the use of quotation marks;
(c) A project work shall be considered plagiarism if it duplicates in whole or in part, without citation, the work of another person to an extent than is greater that is commonly accepted. The degree to which imitation without citation is permissible varies from discipline to discipline. Students must consult their instructors before copying another person's work.
Minimum sanction: Probation; Maximum sanction: Expulsion
Grades and Credits
The professor teaching your class determines the grading system in that course. The final grade may be a combination of weights given to exams, tests, papers, class participation or project work. These weights should be clearly specified at the beginning of the course.
Montclair State University uses a credit system in which each course is assigned a specific number of “credit hours”, that is, the number of hours the student in the course spends in class each week.
The professor determines academic performance using a letter or number grade. At the end of the semester, the student’s credit hours are multiplied by the grade to arrive at a “grade-point average” (GPA). The GPA will indicate your overall academic performance and form a part of your academic history at Montclair State University.
Undergraduate students are expected to complete their studies with a C (2.0) average or better, graduate students must maintain a B (3.0) average.