Common Class Norms

Each class at Harvard will have its own norms, and often those norms will either be explicitly stated on the syllabus or co-created by the class early in the semester. If you’re unsure of class norms, even after doublechecking the course syllabus, then it's a good idea to check in with your instructor to find out what they are.

Below are some norms that are common across Harvard classes:

  • Students come to class prepared and ready to learn.
  • Students show respect for their peers by critiquing ideas (not the people who express them) and listening to understand (rather than to judge).
  • Students show respect for instructors by arriving on time and engaging maturely in classroom discussions and activities.
  • When requesting extensions, exceptions, or other special considerations, students make requests via the proper channels as dictated by course and/or University guidelines.

Students walking through Harvard Yard with their reflection showing in a puddle.

Course Specific Norms

Some norms and expectations vary depending on the class. Look for these course specific norms on course syllabi. If they are not stated there or you find them unclear, don't hesitate to contact your instructor.

Below are some areas where courses define their specific norms and expectations:

  • How to participate in class discussions.
  • What goes into a participation grade.
  • What counts as acceptable collaboration and how to cite it. 
  • Whether extensions on course deadlines are permitted and how to pursue them.
  • What to do if you are struggling in the course.
  • How to be in touch, and who to communicate with, if you have a personal emergency.
  • When to use email or office hours with course-related queries.
  • Where to look for class communications (email, Canvas, Slack, etc.).
  • Standards around assignment submission (file type, method for submission, etc.).
  • Teaching staff availability (on email and in person) outside of stated office hours and procedures for requesting an appointment (who to contact, how far in advance, etc.).
  • Policies on instructors looking over work ahead of submission.
  • Protocols around excused/unexcused absences and other interruptions to coursework.

View of the back of the John Harvard Statue.Birds eye view of a lecture hall.

Class Norms for Online Learning

Online learning often involves learning some new norms centered around uniquely digital practices. If you are taking an online course or a course that has an online component, the course syllabus is still the place to look for norms, expectations, and policies related to online learning. Contact your instructor if you find them unclear or can’t find them at all.

Below are some areas where online courses might have unique course norms:

  • Expectations about camera and microphone usage (always on, always off, only when speaking, etc.).
  • Preferred method for raising hands (digital or physical).
  • Proper use of the chat function.
  • Expected behavior in breakout rooms.
  • Availability of the instructor immediately before or after class.
  • Expectations around what it means to be prepared and ready to learn virtually.
  • Expectations around background images (virtual or “live”) and Zoom names/titles.

Girl taking notes on a laptop.