U.S. Classroom Culture

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Your Instructor and Teaching Assistant

Each class will have an assigned instructor or professor who will lead the class. Instructors may wish to be addressed in a formal manner, such as Doctor or Professor [last name], or they may be more informal and prefer to be addressed by their first name. The instructor will typically tell you on the first day of class how they prefer to be addressed.
Some classes may also have a graduate Teaching Assistant (TA) who assists the instructor in leading the class and grading assignments. The TA is also available to offer assistance to students with class material and assignments.

Office Hours

Both the instructor and TA will offer office hours. This is typically published in the course syllabus provided to you on the first day of class. Office hours are for students who want to meet with the instructor or TA to talk about course material, assignments, or your overall well-being as a learner in the classroom. Many instructors and TAs are available to schedule a meeting outside of office hours as well.


A syllabus is a document that communicates the course information, including learning objectives, expectations of the student, and course materials. The syllabus is often provided to students and reviewed on the first day of class.


Learn@UW is an online learning management system used by many professors on campus. The course syllabus and reading assignments will usually be posted to Learn@UW. In addition, some professors will require that you submit your assignments in the Learn@UW dropbox and participate in classroom discussions through the Learn@UW discussion board. Grades can also be posted in Learn@UW.  

Class Types

Instructors or professors use lecture time to present new information to students. The length of lectures varies and can be 50 minutes to 3 hours, depending on your course schedule. During lectures, professors may ask for interaction from students, including individual participation or group discussions. Students who need clarification about the material being presented are encouraged to ask questions. Asking questions of the professor is not considered rude as long as they are asked in a courteous manner. If the student feels their question is too complicated or unrelated to the information being presented, they can ask questions of the professor after class or during office hours.

Discussions are interactive sessions led by the professor or teaching assistant (TA). The length of discussion varies, but a 50-minute discussion is typical. It is expected that students use this time to discuss readings, talk about papers, and develop writing skills. Students are often graded on their spoken contributions, making it required for them to talk and ask questions in front of the class.

Labs are long periods of time where experiments are led by professors or teaching assistant (TA). Experiments are typically done in small groups of two to four people. The people with whom you sit at your table on the first day of class will often be your lab partners for the rest of the semester. It is common for labs to require organized notebooks. Some professors and TAs collect lab notebooks and grade them based on neatness. Lab grades are also based on written reports, quizzes, and examinations. These requirements are often separate from the lecture portion of a course in which students may be enrolled.


You may have exams periodically throughout the semester, including midterm exams halfway through the semester. At the end of each semester is a week during which only exams are held.
Exam week is typically the Sunday-Saturday after the last day of classes. On these days, most courses conduct their final exams. Exam times can be as early as 7:45 a.m. and as late as 9:00 p.m. Exam times do not correlate with what time a class is normally held during the semester and may be held in a different location than that in which your class was held.
There are multiple methods a professor may use for the exam, including their own paper exam, Scantron, or blue book. The professor may or may not allow you to use notes or other materials, such as a calculator, during the exam. Instructions should be given to students prior to the exam.

Scantron is a sheet of paper consisting of empty bubbles. These sheets are used for multiple choice or true/false sections of exams. Students enter their information, including their student identification number, at the top of the sheet before the exam starts. Once the exam begins, students fill the bubble of the letter they answered beside the question number. After the exam, machines process the scantrons and send score sheets to the professor. The machine only recognizes number two pencils, so it is imperative to use a number two pencil to fill in bubbles on the scantron sheet.

Blue books are small packets of paper that are used for essay and short answer portions of exams. Students fill out their information on the front before the exam starts. Once the exam begins, students are expected to write all of their essays and short answers in the book. Anything that is not in the book will not be graded.