December 22, 2014, 4:38 pm

By Robert Talbert

The last time I posted, I made a public commitment that I would be moving away from traditional points-based grading systems and implementing specifications grading in the upcoming semester. It’s 20 days later, and after a week of in-depth trial and error (mostly error, it feels like), I have working prototypes of specs grading-centered versions of both courses I’ll be teaching. With a few modifications (that’s your cue for suggestions, readers) these are basically ready to “ship”.

Discrete Structures for Computer Science 2 is the second semester of a year-long sequence in discrete mathematics aimed specifically at computer scientists. Here is the newly revamped syllabus for the course and here is a document that will go out with the syllabus that details exactly how the assessment and grading will work.

Modern Algebra 2 is the second half of a year-long sequence on, obviously,…

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June 10, 2013, 3:28 pm

By Robert Talbert

I’m returning to the blog after an hiatus brought on by two things: the six-week calculus class I am finishing up right now, and my participation in the Appalachian College Association’s Teaching and Learning Institute at Ferrum College in Virginia last week. The latter was a week-long engagement during which I gave an opening night after-dinner speech, a two-hour plenary talk, and three iterations of an inverted classroom workshop for participants. Between keeping up with the calculus class and prepping for and then attending the TLI, I’ve had no time for anything else. But coming off the TLI, I’ve got a fresh appreciation for the importance of blogging in my professional life. So, back into the habit.

I learned at the TLI that there are a *lot* of faculty who are interested in the inverted/flipped classroom. Interested — but not yet engaged in doing it, for a variety of…

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January 15, 2013, 9:10 pm

By Robert Talbert

I’m currently taking a MOOC called *Computing for Data Analysis* through Coursera. Ths is my fourth MOOC (the sixth one, if you count the two that I started and then dropped). It’s an introduction to the open-source statistical computing environment known as “R”. I got interested in R after learning about this modeling-based Calculus project that uses the statistical and plotting capabilities of R as well as some special symbolic packages as the centerpiece of introductory calculus. I’m leading a taskforce in my department to draft a plan for technology use in the Calculus sequence, and while I don’t think we’ll be using R, I like very much the spirit behind this calculus project, which puts programming at the heart of learning the subject and uses an open-source platform. Plus, I thought R might come in handy for analyzing my own data, and anyway, it’s free, and the course…

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January 7, 2008, 9:22 pm

By Robert Talbert

This is the last in the series of “How to Make a Syllabus” articles, and I wanted to focus on an element of syllabi that I don’t hear talked about much: their life cycle. Namely, now that we know what a syllabus is for and what sorts of things ought to be on one (and not be on one), let’s talk about how to disseminate it and — very importantly — how to keep it in the game as the semester moves past day 1.

A well-constructed syllabus is a one-stop shop for all the information students should need in a course. Any question, any piece of information that pertains to the course and is not already easily available elsewhere ought to be clearly written and easily accessible in the syllabus. A well-written syllabus has the power to remove a lot of guesswork and unpleasantness from the task of course management. **But only if the syllabus is itself easily available, and only if students are…**

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January 5, 2008, 12:45 pm

By Robert Talbert

Since I’ve discussed what should go into a syllabus, it makes sense to say a few things about what to leave out. You could take my list of things to put into a syllabus in a “strict constructionist” kind of way, so that anything that’s not on that list shouldn’t go in. In general, my rule is that **an item is to be included in the syllabus if and only if it is information that is relevant to the course that is not readily available elsewhere.**

Here are some special cases of items that often show up in syllabi but really ought not to, or at least ought to be kept to a minimum and out of the way:

**A lengthy discourse on the class, why it’s cool, and what it’s good for**. I used to use my syllabi to write a mini-article on the course and how I conceive of it. If well-written, that sort of thing can be good for students to see. But is it syllabus material? I think not — mainly on the basis that…

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January 4, 2008, 11:20 am

By Robert Talbert

Yesterday we looked at a philosophy of the college course syllabus and talked some about the legal and quasi-legal roles the syllabus plays. Now let’s get down to business — what do you put in one?

First of all, remember that the syllabus is a repository of **information** that is supposed to be complete and well-constructed. But it’s important to realize that the level at which students attend to and comprehend the syllabus is related to the sheer amount of stuff that’s in it, and it’s not a linear kind of relationship. I see it like this:

That is, students will either ignore, or else read and then not comprehend, the syllabus if there is either too little information in it… *or too much.* The way in which the information is organized is also important — we’re getting to that — but the first barrier for students is simply the quantity of stuff that’s in it. We need to find that…

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January 3, 2008, 3:01 pm

By Robert Talbert

Since the majority of college professors out there are just about to begin spring semester courses, let’s talk about that course document that is as ignored by students as it is referenced by faculty: the **syllabus**. The syllabus is the central document of a college course, but many professors either give their syllabi no thought at all, leading to a document that doesn’t contain much useful information and therefore gets ignored by students; or else they put too much in it, and it suffers the same fate. I’m going to take a couple or so articles here to give my ideas about what a syllabus is for; what ought to go in one; how it ought to be formatted; and what role it plays in the course after the first day.

This first article will focus on my philosophy behind the syllabus and some issues about the status of a syllabus as a legal document.

It’s helpful to understand first what an…

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