Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The 22-page long syllabus; or How much to share with students at the start of a course

A year or so ago, I shared my Adult Learning and Education syllabus with a colleague as part of a discussion on enhancing adults' motivation to learn. When he saw that it was 22 pages long, he laughed. What was I trying to do, scare them off?!? And kill more trees?!?

Although afraid I would scare them off, my thinking about how much to give students up front was -- and continues to be -- pretty simple: as much as I can. Why?

My students are pretty busy. They work at least 20 hours a week (with most of them fully employed), and many of them have families. Most of my students take 6 credits per term on top of everything else they are doing.

My courses are fairly challenging. They are project-oriented, with the projects reflecting the true complexity of the workplace and profession for which the students are preparing. This means that the projects typically have multiple deliverables, and require collaboration with others.

The combination of busy people and challenging courses can lead to low performance, dissatisfaction, lower efficacy and confidence. Talk about enhancing adults' motivation to learn! So, my strategy is to give students all of the information they need up front so they can quickly determine if they can fit my course into their lives, and be successful while staying healthy. So, as part of my syllabus package(please also see my other posts on jazzing up the syllabus and using scavenger hunts to ensure students read the syllabus), I give my students:
  • Syllabus, establishing relevance of the course and course activities in terms of professional preparation, format and structure of the course, grading expectations and criteria, policies, required materials and texts, contact information

  • Calendar with all due dates

  • Class meeting agendas detailing what is expected each week in terms of reading, discussion, activities, and project work

  • Full project descriptions with corresponding assessment tools for all graded projects

  • Strategies for success in the course
There is no question that this is a lot of content to present to students during the first class meeting. But, in my experience, students appreciate having the details up front. Besides helping them determine if they can fit the course into their busy lives, they can plan out their semester. This is especially helpful for students who travel for work and can only work on coursework at certain times during the week. And, I have found it helpful for myself. It is nice to have a clear plan in place from the get-go.

And anyway, if printed on both sides, it really is only an 11-page syllabus...

1 comment:

Mom to Be April 09 said...

Wow...22 pages! But, I totally understand what you're saying about having the info up front. I think this is especially important for those time-consuming classes that have more complex assignments. Because of budget problems, we are trying to go to electronic syllabus and I'm trying to make sure that everything for the ENTIRE course is available online starting the first day. This includes assignment descriptions, powerpoints, etc. That way if someone wants to get ahead, they can. Its making the beginning of the semester harder on me, but I feel like it will make EVERYTHING so much easier throughout the course of the semester...for both me and my students! Thanks for sharing!