Tuesday, May 15, 2012
A Syllabus Manifesto
Many instructors struggle with students floating through degree programs without understanding how any assignments or exams fit into their courses or curricula. Further, administrators struggle to account for the time that faculty spend developing syllabi and mapping coursework to specified learning outcomes. Preparing students for their post graduate lives is rooted in sharing an understanding of expectations. These expectations reach back to their elementary questions – why do I need to know this? when am I ever going to use this? Similarly, potential employers want to understand what students are learning and if their skill sets will align with industry needs. Other stakeholders including accrediting bodies and prospective students seek answers to these questions as well. The most appropriate medium to answer these questions, organize instructional tools, and account for course development is the course syllabus. That’s it – the answer is in the syllabus – but that can only be the solution if the syllabus is a living and accessible document.
We have discussed the idea of the syllabus as a contract between students and instructors to describe the expectations of both parties (April, 2011, http://aefis.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-are-we-assessing.html). We were excited to see this perspective articulated by the Syllabus Institute in its tenants of the Modern Syllabus. It summarizes three main roles of the syllabus: contractual, assessment, and marketing. As a contract, the syllabus outlines objectives, assignments, policies and other general expectations. In assessment and accreditation processes, the syllabus supports continuous review of outcomes, consistency in practices across the institution, and ensures curricular excellence. With nearly unlimited options in the higher education spaces, prospective students can base decisions on exciting, changing, and unique course offerings – which can be marketed with the syllabus. Similarly current students can be better prepared for coursework and make more informed class selections if they have access to syllabi.
Syllabi are the vehicle for the content of a course and the dissemination of instructors’ ideas to students, institutions, and potentially the public. Think about ways to use them, share them, and engage audiences to appreciate them through web-based platforms - online availability is the first step in this streamlined dissemination. Let us know what you are doing with your syllabi and ideas for moving them forward…
Becky Yannes, AEFIS Team