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Author Topic: syllabus tips, tricks, must-haves and can't do withouts  (Read 13352 times)
reener06
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« on: May 16, 2011, 1:10:43 PM »

So, every semester there are things I realize halfway through that I should've included in my syllabus. I swear to add them, but by semester's end am just too tired to care. This usually applies more to spring semester. Then August rolls around, and I dust off my syllabi for various courses and swear to make things better. Sometimes I do, but then I usually miss something.

So this thread is for you to post the things your syllabus can't do without, the things that HAVE to be in there. For example, I was complaining to a friend about having to do multiple make-up exams for students when she explained her system of one make-up day for all make-up exams at the end of the semester. Much easier than me rearranging my schedule to meet students multiple times over the semester.

So, please, share your tips, tricks and other ideas here. My August self thanks you in advance.
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biop_grad
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« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2011, 1:29:01 PM »

No make-up quizzes or homeworks, and drop a relatively small number.  If someone has an excused absence, the best they can do is an averaged grade.
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biologist_
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2011, 1:33:43 PM »

When I think of a change to my syllabus during the semester, I edit it right away and save the revised version under a different file name.  That's my starting point for my syllabus the next time I teach the class.

I do the same thing with lecture ppts and lab handouts.  I try to take ten minutes a week to jot notes in a word file about better ways to explain things in lecture, minor changes to lab procedures, etc.  If I have a clear idea of what to change, I just go ahead and edit the ppt file or word doc for the lecture or lab handout and save it as "LabX revised" or some such.

Sometimes the notes are incomplete or seem a bit cryptic a year later, but they are much better than nothing.  I hate getting half way through a lecture and thinking, "Oh yeah, I confused the whole class with these slides last year too.  I should have replaced this section with ___."
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cgfunmathguy
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2011, 3:05:47 PM »

When I think of a change to my syllabus during the semester, I edit it right away and save the revised version under a different file name.  That's my starting point for my syllabus the next time I teach the class.

I do the same thing with lecture ppts and lab handouts.  I try to take ten minutes a week to jot notes in a word file about better ways to explain things in lecture, minor changes to lab procedures, etc.  If I have a clear idea of what to change, I just go ahead and edit the ppt file or word doc for the lecture or lab handout and save it as "LabX revised" or some such.

Sometimes the notes are incomplete or seem a bit cryptic a year later, but they are much better than nothing.  I hate getting half way through a lecture and thinking, "Oh yeah, I confused the whole class with these slides last year too.  I should have replaced this section with ___."

This. Also, how I treat make-up exams depends on the institution. At LastJob, I was the determining authority on whether to grant make-ups, but I had to be able to show that I granted them in an equitable manner. My method? "You must have a verifiable excuse (an official slip of paper from someone other than Mom) to receive the opportunity to take a make-up exam. All make-ups must be completed within one week of the regularly-scheduled exam."

At CurrentJob, the determination is made by someone else, and until I receive an email from that administrator, you don't get a make-up. The line about completing the make-up within one week of the regularly-scheduled exam still applies, however.
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melba_frilkins
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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2011, 3:44:43 PM »

This all needs to be in sync with your campus policies, but I'll throw in:

1. It's the student's responsibility to drop/withdraw, otherwise end up with an F if they stop coming to class. However, instructor reserves the option to withdraw student for excessive absences.

2. No exams will be given EARLY. (This in conjunction with lenient make-up policy, which involves one day at end of semester for make-ups).

3. Be very firm and clear about how you will accept assignments (hard copy only, electronic drop box only, by email, not by email, etc.)

4. Disclaimer "All dates and policies are subject to change as announced in class". An important CYA even if you rarely change things up.
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paddington_bear
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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2011, 4:07:28 PM »

In addition to the regular information regarding university policies, department and other goals, etc., here are my additions:

CLASSROOM POLICIES
All written work done outside of class MUST be typed and stapled; otherwise, it will NOT be accepted.  ALL written assignments must have the proper heading, indicating your name, the class, the assignment, and the date. Unless it has been cleared with me beforehand, absolutely NO late assignments will be accepted.  (Exceptions MAY be given in cases of true emergencies [determined by me], however.) Even if you are not in class, you are still responsible for turning in the material the day that it is due.

Arriving to class on time is another important element of your engagement in the course. Consistent tardiness will negatively impact your grade. 

Please make sure that ALL Blackberries, cell phones and other electronic devices are turned off by the time that class begins.  If you need to have your cell phone, etc., on because you are expecting an EMERGENCY call, please set the device to vibrate. If you are caught texting, etc., I will confiscate your device and return it at my discretion. It is permissible to use a laptop for taking notes in class, but I reserve right to look over your shoulder to make sure that you are, in fact, taking notes. If it is discovered that you are not using the laptop for classroom purposes, I reserve the right to confiscate it for the rest of the class period, and to disallow its use for the rest of the semester.


OTHER HELPFUL HINTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL SEMESTER

•   Do NOT wait until just before class to print out an assignment. ALL assignments are due at the beginning of class. Computer labs can be crowded, or printers can get jammed, and since late assignments are not accepted, you do not want a delay.
•   Keep electronic copies of ALL of your assignments. They will come in handy if the professor misplaces an essay.
•   Keep ALL assignments once they have been handed back. This will help you keep track of your progress in the course. And, in case of faulty record keeping, it will be easy to re-record your grades.
•   When sending emails to me, please follow email etiquette. Please put a topic in the “subject” line, even if it’s only the name of the class. Also, if submitting a draft or an essay via email, please put a message, no matter how brief, in the body of the mail.
•   The time to be concerned about your grade is now, and every day after today. Do NOT wait until the last week of the semester to start thinking about how you can improve in the course.
•   Please be aware of all add/drop deadlines.  If you are unable to consistently come to class (due to illness, personal problems, etc.), it is usually best for you to drop the course; the grade of incomplete is rarely given.


FAQs:

•   How can I find out how I’m doing during the semester?
You can always look on ANGEL to keep track of the grades you’ve received on assignments, and to figure out how many points you’ve received out of the total.

•   Can I do extra credit in order to improve my grade?
There may be opportunities in the semester to complete extra credit, but nothing is definite yet.

•   Do I need to let you know that I am sick and will not be in class?
Absences will only be excused with a doctor’s note (or other official notification, such as from a coach or other professor).  Otherwise, it is NOT necessary for you to let me know that you were or are going to be absent.
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weathered
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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2011, 4:35:31 PM »

One thing I learned from last semester was the need for a special policy on ghost students. I should have included the phrase "Ghost students will automatically get an F after 25% of absences." Well, my ghost got an F without this clause, because he flunked the finals and other things.

But I still wondered, should long legal contract like syllabi be necessary? I remember getting 1-2 pages syllabi as an undergraduate and had no difficulty following it. Plus, it saves the trees.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2011, 4:36:59 PM by weather123 » Logged
paddington_bear
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« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2011, 5:06:07 PM »

But I still wondered, should long legal contract like syllabi be necessary? I remember getting 1-2 pages syllabi as an undergraduate and had no difficulty following it. Plus, it saves the trees.

When I started teaching, my syllabi were maybe four pages long. Now they're double that. In part b/c of things that I've added - including more information up front, stating my own person policies - but also because of what accrediting bodies and the university's general education committee say that our syllabi have to include. Does it make a difference to students?  I doubt it.
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oldfullprof
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2011, 5:41:33 PM »

When I started teaching, my syllabi were four pages long.  Now they're two pages long.  I do have goals, and my plagiarism policy on them, as well as the course description, assignments, and calendar.  That's it.
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mountainguy
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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2011, 7:43:20 PM »

I personally am a fan of syllabi that get straight to the point without pages and pages of tortured legalese about various contingencies, on the KISS assumption (keep it simple stupid).

But there are some people in academia who adhere to a "covering law" model of syllabus construction, which holds that if a policy isn't explicitly enumerated in the syllabus, it isn't enforceable. This strikes me as misguided at best, but if you're at such an institution where this is the norm, play by the rules...
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oldfullprof
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Representation is not reproduction!


« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2011, 7:52:09 PM »

Where does it say I actually have to wear a shirt to class?  Where?  It's not on the syllabus.

(Actually much of what the lawyers think should be on our syllabi is already in the student handbook.)
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kolga
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« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2011, 8:26:14 PM »

Unfortunately, my syllabi are about 11 pages long (and growing).  One reason is that we've been informed that if a decision we make isn't supported by a written policy in our syllabi, administration will not support us.  So, if I want to have decisions regarding late work, for example, supported when the student files a complaint, I need to spell out all possible decisions that I might make - it's not enough to say "acceptance of late work is up to the discretion of the professor."

Another reason is the increased rules-lawyering of the students.  For example, in my syllabus, I have a policy of giving a failing grade for plagiarism (on the assignment for the first instance, for the course for the second instance).  My standard failing grade for plagiarism is, of course, zero points.  A student who failed an assignment for plagiarism demanded that I give him an F (with some points) rather than a zero so that he'd have more points at the end of the semester, and claimed that I had to because my policy didn't specific zero points.

So, over the years instances like these have created the Syllabus of Doom. 

I am considering breaking my online syllabi into sections, and posting them as FAQs.
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magistra
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« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2011, 9:38:10 PM »

They won't read them!  And if it's not called "syllabus"....   I even give a syllabus/course policies quiz, and they still have no idea.  Sigh.

All this is aimed at newbies, but I do think it's good every few years to go through and see if you're missing anything.  It's so easy to take the boilerplate for granted when it really needs to be updated, or you find it's not in line with your school's policies.  (I only got rid of the mention of beepers this year.)

First, use a checklist, like this one.  Then, check your school's policies.  Cut and paste where applicable.  Check with your accreditation board too.  Ask to borrow friends' syllabi for ideas -- they'll fit your own school's needs, official or unofficial.  There are lots of syllabi and checklists online, too, of course, which is great if you've got a brand new class to whip up.

Think of the syllabus as a road map for the class.  Even if they're not included in the syllabus per se, work on rubrics or instructions for major assignments.  It'll help you think through what's most important for the class.

Put a "subject to change" notice in it -- that way you have a little leeway.

Make the schedule separate from the syllabus.

State that if they have an excused absence and need a make-up, they need to contact you within 24 hours.  No waiting a week to tell you they had the sniffles!

Give them a syllabus quiz so you have proof they've read the thing.  Or at least an argument for when they claim they don't know.

Slap it on the course website asap so you can 1) scare off slackers before class starts and 2) prove that you're providing access.  No excuses!

The truth, though, is that my students are pretty good and my syllabus fairly short, and mostly boilerplate.  I rarely need anything draconian.  The couple troublesome students are always going to find a way to make us miserable, but fortunately, they're really quite rare.  I guess my last piece of advice is to spend a minute thinking how seldom students make you whip out the syllabus in self-defense!
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spectacle
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« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2011, 10:02:53 PM »

Mine's long - I'm at another school where the first thing an admincritter asks is, "... well, was that policy in your syllabus?" when a student gripes.

I have a lot of the same ones others have, including

* Exams must be made up within one week.
* No late work accepted (but I will grant extensions if requested more than 48 hours in advance).
* Emails will be answered within 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays).
* No extra credit in this course.

I've also taken to posting an FAQ on the course website that I add to throughout the semester; students ask a lot of good questions that aren't covered in the syllabus ("which edition of the textbook is being used this semester?") and I can post the answers there and then direct future askers to the FAQ.
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frogfactory
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« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2011, 10:08:36 PM »

Actually, I thought it was odd that, when I got here, syllabi did not tell me what lecture/topic would be given on what day, but instead gave me a bunch of policy crap that should have been covered in the university website anyway.  Instead, the schedule becomes flexible and students don't know in advance what lecture they'll get when.  Which is really stupid in terms of expecting anyone to be prepared for class in a disciplined way.  How hard is it to say 'March 4th  - Atlantean basketweaving' and making it clear that, if everything the lecturer doesn't want to cover doesn't get covered, they can say "read chapter X of Y and the list of refs oh section C of the syllabus to get up to speed'.  Next lecture we talk about Trojan baksetweaving and you'll need to understand Atlantean basketweaving to get the most out of this."

*sigh.  Froggy realises she's hopelessly naive and students aren't like they were (counts) twelve years ago*
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