Monday, January 08, 2007

Epic Syllabus

I am working on crafting the perfect syllabus for my spring term class: a syllabus that contains all essential information in an easy-to-read, succinct yet not cryptic form.. a syllabus that students will read and save and consult.. a syllabus that will encapsulate all the most essential points that I will make in the first class (as some students will not be there the first day and/or will not be listening).

Fortunately, I do not have to flounder around alone in this effort. I have been sent a 57 page document from a teaching resource center about what to put in my syllabus. I exaggerate just a bit about the length of this document, but if I followed all the links in it, 57 pages would surely be an underestimate.

Apparently, my syllabus should contain:

- my name, contact information, office hours, webpage url, TA names/contact info, textbook information, list of course prerequisites, reading assignments and class topics, format of class, date of all exams and other graded assignments, and special mention of policy regarding make-up exams, keeping in mind that I am required to give make-up exams to student-athletes and others traveling for University-sponsored events;
- a statement giving the University Senate regulations that apply to the relationship of credit hours to amount of out-of-class work assigned;
- my grading policy, describing what each letter grade or pass/fail grade signifies, and describing the possible circumstances and consequences of a grade of Incomplete.
- a statement about academic honesty, with particular mention of plagiarism (I wonder if I can just copy the paragraph provided for me or if I have to write my own);
- a list of academic resources for students (writing centers etc.);
- a list of relevant University libraries;
- a statement about University policy concerning students with disabilities;
- a paragraph listing resources for Non-Native Speakers (NNS) and other programs for international students;
- contact information for the University Counseling Services

I do not dispute that most, and maybe even all of that, is important information, but would a troubled student consult a syllabus to get help? Does my leaving out all but the first category of info in the list above send the message that I only care about assignments and grades? I hope not, but I fear that an enormously long and comprehensive syllabus will not be read, and that the most essential information will get lost in it.

Therefore, I will probably do what I usually do: make a short and concise syllabus to distribute in paper form, post the same thing on the course webpage, and provide links to all the rest of it from the course webpage. I will probably also include a short paragraph on what is acceptable regarding 'working together' on homework and on lab assignments and what is not.

As long as a syllabus contains the key information about office hours and grade basis and assignments/exams, does the rest really matter? I've created dozens of syllabi over the years and have never had a 'syllabus disaster' but also have never been convinced I've reached syllabus perfection.


Irie said...

I'm a secondary teacher and this is something that I struggle with each fall. If you don't include something it could come back to haunt you, but if it's too long then no one will read it.

I think writing the perfect syllabus is about as likely as finding the perfect pair of jeans- something we all look for and few accomplish.

Chaser said...

Ok, I am going to sound grumpy here, but why do you need to list libraries? They all have significant online presence; students can ask librarians.


Anonymous said...

Are the services for NNS for your course different from those for other courses? Is plagiarism permitted in some classes? If not, why doesn't the university give the information to the students once and leave your syllabus to the informations relevant to that particular class? Oh, you can copy the paragraph about plagiarism, if you properly cite the source, of course.

Anonymous said...

My syllabi have two parts. One part, that I expect students to read and refer to gives essential information about the course. I encourage them to read this putting it up on the projector whenever a student asks a question whose answer is in the syllabus. This happens every day for the first few weeks and a couple of times before every exam.

The second part is a contract, and like all good contracts, it is full of stuff that most people never read. But it is important that it all be there in case it is ever needed. I put all this stuff on a separate page.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

The bits about listing every resource ever seem like overkill for sure. Remembering my college days, we got about five copies of all those.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if I can just copy the paragraph provided for me or if I have to write my own"


Ms.PhD said...

I've never taken a course where we followed the syllabus exactly.

I also don't recall ever receiving a syllabus with all that extra university info in it.

I'm inclined to think that, like jeans, we might take these things a little too seriously.

Heather Ann said...

Can't you put all that extra info on your faculty/course website? Put the course-specific stuff in the syllabus, and add a short blurb that says "For information about X, Y, Z, please see the website at". Then the information is accessible, but you don't need to print hundreds of copies of it.

Sour Duck said...

Like Ms. Phd., I don't recall ever receiving a syllabus with all that extraneous stuff on it. All it would have is the course day/time, reading material, and dates the essays were due.

There seems to be a lot of ass-covering on the part of the University here, and spoon-feeding students information that has nothing to do withthe course.

Anyhow. Grumpy mode off. ;)