The average day on a university campus is different in every country, and sometimes even in different parts of the same country. Students have various expectations in the classroom, and various behaviors are expected of the students. Some students come from cultures that are very similar to the United States, and they find it easy to acclimate to this teaching style. For others, the classroom expectations in the United States will be unlike anything they’ve previously experienced. Remember that the University Programs staff is always available to help with any questions or concerns.
Here are some general guidelines for how things work at UC Davis.
UC Davis is on the “quarter system” rather than the “semester system.” The quarter system divides the academic year into Fall, Winter and Spring Quarters. Each quarter is 10 weeks long, with an additional week of final exams at the end. This means that most students already have midterms or essays due in the second and third week of the quarter. The quarter system moves very quickly, and it’s important to keep up with the reading and homework. This will make it much easier to finish assignments at the end of the quarter.
As part of the respect shown to the instructor, it’s important to get to class on time, or even a little early. It is considered rude to be late. This is especially true for any appointment you have with faculty or teaching assistants.
Instructors generally allow students to eat during the lecture or discussion, but it shows good manners to only eat “quiet” foods. Everyone in the lecture can hear the crunching of chips and crackers, and it’s very distracting. The best option would be not to eat in class at all, but if necessary, soft foods are best. Drinking coffee, tea, and water is generally allowed and sometimes encouraged.
Students who arrive early should try to sit closer to the middle of the row. This allows students who get there later to easily find a seat on the end of the rows. The exception to this is if a student has to leave right at the end of lecture to get to another class. In that case, then it’s alright to sit on the end of the row. It isn’t required that students sit in the same place every time, but students usually fall into the habit of finding the same seat for every lecture. It can be viewed as bad manners to “take” someone else’s seat. If you arrive and there is a backpack or purse “saving” a seat, never move the backpack. Touching someone else’s belongings without permission is very rude. It is important to arrive early for the midterm and final, since the lecture will be very crowded on those days.
Do not use a phone or other electronics in class. This is very rude, and the instructor may ask the student to put the electronic device away or to leave the lecture. A possible exception to this rule is laptops or a recording device. Some professors even have policies against laptops, and they will usually list these policies in the syllabus or announce them in class. Always ask the instructor before using a recording device!
Teaching in the United States
The teaching style in the United States emphasizes learner participation. The instructor is expected to present the information, and the student is expected to demonstrate understanding through discussion and asking questions. The learning process is a partnership, in which the instructor and the student work together to increase the student’s knowledge and understanding. For this reason, it is very important that students attend every lecture and discussion. Instructors usually assign a certain part of the final grade to “participation points,” and the student receives a small number of points every day for attending class and/or discussion. Sometimes these points can be enough to raise a grade to the next highest letter grade.
As part of discussions, it is accepted and even encouraged to present opposing viewpoints, even viewpoints that contradict the instructor’s. That said, it is important to understand that everyone in the lecture is entitled to their own views, and the discussion should always remain courteous. Students are asked to keep their voices and tones even, and to avoid disparaging or insulting remarks. Students that choose to engage in confrontational behavior will be asked to leave the lecture.
- Professor: Professors are highly respected in the United States. For this reason, you should always address your instructors as “Professor” first. If he/she isn’t actually a professor, they’ll tell you. Always be prepared before approaching faculty, so that you don’t take up too much of their time outside of office hours. If you’re writing a professor an email, use a formal tone and language, and check grammar and spelling.
- Teaching Assistant (TA): A TA is a graduate student who is also working as an aide to the course instructor. Sometimes a TA will lead a class, and they usually lead discussion sections. They are also very involved in the grading process, so try to make a good impression.
- Instructor: This is the person who leads the class, regardless of whether he/she is a professor or not. Sometimes the instructor isn’t a professor, especially in beginning courses. For example, in foreign language classes, the introductory courses are often taught by graduate students.
- Office Hours: Both professors and TAs will hold office hours throughout the quarter. This is a specified period of time during the week when students can go to the professor’s or TA’s office with questions about the course or the homework. It’s important to take advantage of office hours if you have any questions!
- Blue book/Scantron: These are both used for exams, and they can be bought in the UC Davis Bookstore. A Scantron is used in multiple choice questions, where the answer is True/False or A/B/C/D/E. A blue book is used for essay questions or short answer. You’ll be expected to write out your answers in a blue book, so make sure your handwriting is clear. You should also bring two blue books with you to the exam, in case you need more space to write.
- Discussion section: Classes are generally divided between the lecture and the discussion. Students come together for the lecture, usually held two or three times a week. The discussion is a shorter meeting between a small group of students and a TA. This is when the lecture material is discussed. There are usually several different discussion sections for each class, but students are only required to attend one discussion section a week.
- Lab: This is short for “laboratory” and is usually only required for students studying science, such as biology or chemistry. Labs are once a week, and they can be between 2-3 hours long. There is usually a lot of homework associated with labs, including a pre-lab write-up, the work in the lab, and a post-lab write-up.