Principle 3: Clear Expectations and Goals

Principle 3: Clear Expectations and Goals

Provide clear expectations and explicit course learning goals to foster student success.

Summary and Rationale

Design courses with appropriate learning goals and measurable outcomes that are aligned with departmental and programmatic expectations and course format and level to serve both students and discipline. Student expectations are best when clearly stated and easy to understand. Feedback that is most useful when it is related to course goals and expectations is and is offered in a timely manner. Clear expectations and goals help provide scaffolding for student academic growth and establish trust between the instructor and student.

When instructors make learning goals and expectations explicit to students, students are better able to meet those expectations. Explicit expectations reduce opportunities for bias, ensuring that all students understand the rules for success, and encouraging student engagement in course materials. Clear learning goals create a roadmap for instructors to design course content that is relevant to the course objectives and has clear methods of assessment. Tying individual course goals and expectations to departmental and programmatic expectations further supports students’ learning and achievement throughout the curricula.


Strategies to provide clear expectations and make learning goals explicit may include the following:

  • Provide clear criteria for how work will be assessed, including an explanation of graded components and their weights.  Make the dimensions of high-quality work clear through a rubric or other statement of the important features of the assignment.
  • Provide specific, actionable, and timely feedback and help students understand the purpose of that feedback. Instructor feedback can consist of:
    • brief written or audio/video-recorded comments to highlight strengths and weaknesses
    • annotations on a rubric; in-text comments on a written assignment.
    • objective feedback (scores), particularly when assessments are returned so students can view and understand mistakes
  • Extensive written feedback is most helpful when students will revise an assignment to continue to meet learning goals. Feedback does not necessarily need to come from the instructor; students may also receive feedback from each other or reflect on their own work in light of a rubric or course learning goals.
  • Design course assignments to be purposeful in moving students towards meeting class goals. Student work does not always need to receive an evaluative score or extensive feedback from the instructor, but assignment design and feedback given should be context-specific to help students progress in course goals.
  • Design assessments that connect to real-world situations, problems, or contexts and make sure that students know the broad purpose of an assignment beyond the course itself. Be aware of the possibility for bias when designing assessments. 
  • Provide models of high-quality student work, especially with annotations that make its high-quality features visible, to help students understand how to meet expectations.
  • Build in early, low-stakes assessments to identify students who need extra support, and offer a range of options for assisting those students. Such supports may include additional in-person, phone, or video meetings; providing informal feedback on assignments before they are due and/or providing opportunities for revision; and connecting students with each other to form small learning communities.
  • Reach out to students who need extra attention.



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