There are hundreds of variables, a new photography student needs to deal with. There are different types of cameras, variations of lenses, equipment in different conditions, a tremendous number of focus, exposure, and other setting choices, and then the custom mode selections.
A good start is to work with the same camera during your entire photo course. Not only will this eliminate variations in camera operation and performance, but only one learning curve for camera familiarity will be required. Note: teachers always request student cameras have at least one manual mode of operation.
Of course the camera and lenses must be in proper working operation. Nothing is worse that a malfunctioning piece of equipment, so check your gear and make sure everything is functioning before your class starts.
Manufacturers use different names for features. On the mode selector dial Nikon will use “S” for shutter priority, while Canon will use “TV.” One company may call a feature “HDR,” and another “High Dynamic,” and in fact they may have a slightly different set of properties. Then there are the specialty features like “Face Detection,” 3D, “landscape vs. scenery,” WiFi, and GPS, which can all add to the confusion.
Every option has choices. Focusing can be tracking, continuous, quick, matrix, or center target. The system used to calculate your light readings can be spot, matrix, averaging, or center-weighted. The file formats can be Jpeg, Raw, Tiff, or even a combination of two.
My best advice is to use only one camera and lens set-up. The new Bridge Camera category offers a single lens setup that does everything including macro down to inches. Make sure your equipment is working, stick with one ISO, one method of exposure, one type of focusing, one file format, keep white balance on auto, and turn off as many specialty features as possible. Then leave the settings the same until consistent results can be achieved!
Finally, once you obtain consistent results, you can experiment by changing one variable, and only one variable at a time.