Ah, the syllabus. Some view this particular document as a course plan; others, a contract between instructor and student. Still others might look at the syllabus as a necessary evil, placing limitations on creative freedom and course development. However you feel, most instructors spend a good portion of the first day (or days, sometimes) going through this document, explaining expectations and goals for the course. Standing next to a projector screen or holding a copy and reading, verbatim, everything written on the page is so common that it approaches a trope of college life. It's a review technique you probably sat through many times in undergraduate, and it remains a solid approach for those of us a bit shaky on our confidence in front of the class. However, if you're looking for a new approach, check out these creative ways TAs have shared their syllabi:
- One TA sent the syllabus out to students before the first day of class and asked them to come prepared to answer provocative questions like “what are 5 stupid ways to fail this course?”
- One first-year instructor created a video of himself talking about the syllabus and, posting it on Blackboard, asked the class to view it prior to the first day.
- Another instructor turned her syllabus into an interactive slideshow that students could then access online.
- One creative writing teacher uses his syllabus to “tell the story” of his class, his goals and general view of the progression of the course over the semester.
For more fun syllabus sharing ideas, including Syllabus BINGO and a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt, check out Green River Community College's Faculty Teaching Resources Website.
What the Experts Say— In her article “Making a Syllabus More than a Contract,” Roxanne Cullen describes her shift away from the syllabus-as-contract trope and toward a conceptualization of the syllabus as a useful tool for student learning (5). In a courageous move, Cullen describes eliminating a pre-set requirement for attendance, class participation and penalties for late work, instead indicating that these things would be negotiated and agreed upon by the class during the first few days of the course. In her effort to further incorporate her syllabus as a course text, Cullen assigned her students an essay exploring the expectations as outlined in the syllabus, their expectations for the course, and the expectations they felt that Cullen, as the instructor, had for class members. By encouraging students to become invested in the actual framework of the course early on, Cullen hopes to engender a greater sense of engagement and student responsibility.