Is it time to fix your syllabus?

[ from ProfHacker – The Chronicle of Higher Ed.  Maybe it’s time for me to review *my* syllabi?  –KB]


Fixing a Syllabus

By Jason B. Jones

Last spring, my university incorporated MW courses into the schedule, as part of an overall attempt to use classroom space more efficiently and consistently, thereby (hopefully!) removing some impediments to graduation.  The plan may yet do those things–I believe, for example, that we did have more available classroom space last semester–but it also had one unintended effect: It radically depopulated MWF courses.  It turns out that when students are given the choice between a MW upper-division course that satisfies a requirement, and a MWF course that satisfies the same one, they’ll usually take the 3-day weekend every time.

Who knew, right?

The practical implication is that I have to take the syllabus for my Dickens class, which I teach every 2 years or so, and convert it from its previous iterations (once as a MWF class, and a couple of times as a once-a-week class) into a MW format. Coupled with my usual practice of tweaking the reading list most semesters, it seemed like it’s time to rethink my syllabus from the ground up.  To do so, I’m drawing on four previous ProfHacker posts, which I thought might be relevant to many folks, especially if you weren’t around during the pre-Chronicle days:

In addition to revising my course documents and such with an eye for accessibility, I’m also keen to achieve three main goals:

  • Moderately tone down my “Syllabus Voice,” which a colleague has not-inaccurately described as “Wilde-meets-Stalin.” Maybe go for “Sedaris-meets-Chavez.”
  • Clarify the relationship between the assignments and the course’s learning outcomes.
  • Simplify the document, to make sure students know where to find the various resources for the class.

Of course, it’s a syllabus, not a magic pony. Not even the most artisanally handcrafted syllabus will guarantee a class goes well.  But the idea is to eliminate as many own goals–moments where my personal quirks get in the way of, rather than facilitating, student success–as possible.

In a follow-up post, I’ll showcase how a couple of my syllabuses have evolved over the years, including their revised versions.

If you are revising a syllabus this fall, to what end? What would you like to achieve?


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