Managing student expectations and understanding of what it means to be an Imperial student

Dr Tiffany Chiu, Teaching Fellow in Educational Development, Educational Development Unit

Dr Freddie Page, Strategic Teaching Fellow, Dyson School of Design Engineering

The Learning and Teaching Strategy aims to establish a supportive and inclusive scholarly community which helps students with the transition to study at Imperial. To achieve this, the Strategy has stressed the importance of “managing expectations and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to play an active part in our academic community”. We recognise the challenges of the transition from school to university where expectations of university students are not always made explicit and transparent, which are central to inclusive and diverse learning and teaching practices.

Anecdotal evidence from staff conversations, especially at Imperial, has highlighted the increasing concern that students are taking a pragmatic approach to their education. That is, students are over-emphasising academic outcomes/grades, and overlooking the holistic aims of higher education, such as the importance of transferable and higher-order skills development. To support the development of an inclusive culture of diversity, we need to generate conversation and discussion on what it means to be a university student and what we expect from our students within our curriculum. For establishing a platform to initiate this kind of conversation, we have used the Ideal University Student survey as part of induction exercises in the Dyson School of Design Engineering to discuss any potential mismatches between student and staff expectations. This survey is an ongoing educational research which looks into views and expectations of what it means to be a university student, from the perspectives of students and staff in higher education. Below we briefly describe how this exercise can be facilitated in class:

We used the final part of the first year Design Engineers’ induction to the department talk to run a segment titled University Learning. We wanted to build upon students’ thoughts on the most important qualities of a university student before prompting them, so we asked students to spend 5-10 minutes completing the ideal university student survey ( individually before moving to discussion. The survey contains fifty-one qualities related to university learning, and students had to score how important they thought each was. After students completed the survey, they discussed in groups their ideas on the most important features of a student in Design Engineering and then submitted their answers to a Mentimeter poll. Students were also asked to respond to their thoughts on tutor expectations (i.e. What do you think the tutors think the most important features are?).

During the whole class discussion, we asked students to elaborate what they had agreed was important and why. This cohort identified ‘innovation, ‘collaboration’, and ‘critical thinking’ as being particularly important and thought that their tutors might also expect students to have ‘good communication skills’ and to get ‘enough sleep’.

We also discussed the relative weighting to the degree of the first year and the master’s project (the project carries more weight than the total first year). With these discussions, we hope students are able to see the university is a journey that supports them to develop their identity as an engineer, rather than focusing heavily on chasing every last mark. We also showed students what employers often look for when recruiting graduates, and what our programme’s learning outcomes are and how they align to this. We hope that by reinforcing this attitude throughout the degree, students are able to take more responsibility for their learning and see our programme as a framework to help them to succeed. Ultimately, we hope to support our students to become well-rounded independent graduates with a high level of self-efficacy.

To find out more about this project, please visit the Ideal University Student website. If you would like to discuss how you can use this exercise to manage student expectations, please drop us an email.

Dr Tiffany Chiu (

Dr Freddie Page (





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