Thursday, August 25, 2011

Syllabi Specifics.

When I first started teaching, when making syllabi, a left a lot of things vague. I was under the impression that it was unnecessary to list everything we were going to do at every moment. In my mind, this would allow some flexibility for the class to pursue its own interests. I also was confident in my ability to "wing it" and make unplanned details work. I realize now that it was more of my weakness as a thorough planner.

The syllabus should contain some flexibility, of course, but what its purpose really is (to me, now) is to make sure that I have a solid enough of a plan that any "winging it" or departures will take place at a much higher level that transcends the basic foundations of the course. It also forces me, against my nature, to plan details MONTHS ahead. I draw comfort now in having it all in place. 

One area that a syllabus should not be overly detailed (IMHO) is in the risk management and consequences section. I had a colleague that would basically use her syllabus to forbid- in writing- all of the things she found annoying the last time she taught the course. Yes, you need to have sections about academic integrity, but surely you can refer the reader to another place where the policy is written in detail. Please don't elaborate how students should NOT write in their lab notebooks.

Addendum; On the first day of class I explain to the students that this is not a packet of information that they can find elsewhere, but that it is a contract between me and them. If I say I'm grading you on this, I cannot add assignments. Also if we have an exam on this day, that day is when we have it. I am obliged to you to do this, and this, and this... and you have the following ways that you will be assessed with no surprises.


  1. we have about 2 single spaced pages of required crap we have to pu in our syllabuses now. ANNOYING, and if we don't have a bunch of crap in there about consequences, it becomes more difficult to enforce any since students claim "they didn't know" SIGH

  2. The list of required stuff my undergrad professor had to include was annoyingly long, to the point where they almost all had started writing a "Summary Syllabus" with just the stuff the students asked about (I blame ABET)

  3. Yes, I've been told more than once that I have to put everything I do not accept as classroom behavior in the syllabus, otherwise I can't complain later. I once gave a student 50% of the expected participation grade because he would leave the class for 15 minutes every class and return with snacks from the vending machine. He complained to my chair that nowhere in the syllabus it said it was not allowed, and that other profs had it in the syllabus (therefore he assumed that it was OK). Of course the student was being disingenous, but now I list every single thing I can think of.

  4. ABET is the engineering accreditation board. Not sure if the sciences have an equivalent org.