September 8, 2011, 7:30 am
Two things I noticed at the start of this semester were (1) the number of articles and blog posts coming out about “syllabus bloat” (see Profhacker, for instance), and (2) the insane degree to which my own syllabi have bloated. My Calculus II syllabus is 12 pages long, for instance, and I wasn’t exactly using 36-point font.
I liked (in a chagrined sort of way) Barbara Fister’s metaphor very much of the syllabus as Terms of Service. Put together all the boilerplate, all the course policies, all the tables of grade assignments, etc. and what you have is not very different from the Terms of Service (ToS) agreements we all click through without a glance when we start up new software. And that’s not a good thing:
The trouble is the syllabus-as-contract is not only tiresome to read, it’s not inspiring. You must, you can’t, you ought – that’s not an itinerary for a trip to someplace…
October 29, 2008, 5:59 pm
I was just listening to the introductory lecture for an Introduction to Algorithms course at MIT, thanks to MIT Open Courseware. The professor was reading from the syllabus on the collaboration policy for students doing homework. Here’s a piece of it:
You must write up each problem solution by yourself without assistance, however, even if you collaborate with others to solve the problem. You are asked on problem sets to identify your collaborators. If you did not work with anyone, you should write “Collaborators: none.” If you obtain a solution through research (e.g., on the Web), acknowledge your source, but write up the solution in your own words. It is a violation of this policy to submit a problem solution that you cannot orally explain to a member of the course staff. [Emphasis in the original]
So in other words, you can collaborate within reasonable boundaries as long as you cite…
January 7, 2008, 9:22 pm
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…
January 5, 2008, 12:45 pm
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…
January 4, 2008, 11:20 am
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…
January 3, 2008, 3:01 pm
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…