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Rethinking the Syllabus

After a late-2017 hiatus here on the CTT blog, I thought the first post of 2018 should touch on something many of us might be thinking about as winter quarter classes begin at EvCC today: the course syllabus.

Useful information about constructing a course syllabus can be found almost everywhere these days: here, here, here — I could keep this up for a long time, but won’t since you get the idea (and know perfectly well how to perform your own internet searches). But over on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ChronicleVitae blog, Kevin Gannon last fall posted a series of musings that go beyond the general “how-to” approach you’ll find in most syllabus guides, tutorials, and similar resources. Instead, he invites us to ask what a syllabus is for, why it matters, and what we can do as teachers to bring the present-day syllabus back into the realm of “good pedagogy.”

Here’s a taste, from the first of the series, “What Is a Syllabus Really For, Anyway?“:

The key role of this document is spelled out clearly in The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach: ‘The syllabus provides the first opportunity faculty have to encourage and guide students to take responsibility for their learning…When reading a learning-centered syllabus, students learn what is required to achieve the course objectives, and they learn what processes will support their academic success.’ In short, students need to know what they need to do to succeed in your course, and how they’re being empowered to do it.

But the syllabus has evolved (hideously mutated?) from a course guide to its present-day incarnation as a lengthy compendium of policies and procedural statements where the course material almost feels like an afterthought.

So how do we reclaim the syllabus for its rightful purpose? The first step is to ask, What is a syllabus for, anyway? If we can’t answer that question concisely and unambiguously, then there are conversations that need to happen.

Read the full article here, then see Parts 2 and 3 of the DIY Syllabus series, “What Goes Into a Syllabus?” and “How to Move Beyond the Transactional“.

How do you approach your syllabus? Have your views on “what a syllabus is really for” changed in recent years? How do you keep your syllabus fresh, engaging, and useful as a teaching instrument?