Syllabus Tips

With the fall semester approaching we naturally start to think of syllabi construction. The syllabus represents a contract to many teachers—a document filled with stipulations designed to help students follow the rules and hence succeed. Trouble is, with each added sentence in the contract, the likelihood that students will read the document goes down. (Just like we do with those rules we “agree” to accept on internet sites and software upgrades. So many words!)

Please have a look at a piece by columnist David Gooblar, in the Pedagogy Unbound feature of the Chronicle of Higher Education. The writer offers interesting suggestions on how to make your syllabi seem less like boilerplate composed by a platoon of attorneys. The article contains a graphic illustration designed  to make a syllabus resemble a comic book, which could appeal to those wishing to go in that direction. Actually it’s pretty cool.

Part of the increasing amount of verbiage in syllabi is due to institutional and state mandates. But students generally are not interested in Learning Outcomes statements, to be honest. The author suggests placing the mandatory stuff online, with brief instructions in the syllabus on where to find the information. Some teachers may want to put the whole thing online, with links for added material. This could be risky, but we have probably passed the point where we must be concerned about students without access to the Internet.

There is probably not a single experienced instructor out there who is not weary of students asking class-related questions that are answered easily by reading the syllabus. One teacher a few years ago suggested that we should all wear t-shirts or caps, with bold lettering saying, “IT’S IN THE SYLLABUS!” but you hate to change your wardrobe over the matter. Plus, when you stop by the grocery store after work, your ensemble could draw the wrong kind of attention.