Today’s Tuesday Tip focuses on one of the thorniest issues in higher education: why are students not reading the syllabus?
The most recent development in this saga is the famous news from December 2021 (Smart, 2021) about a University of Tennessee professor who hid $50 in a locker at the beginning of the Fall semester and shared the information on how to unlock it in his syllabus. To no one’s surprise, the cash was untouched (and unclaimed) at the end of the semester.
While appreciating the good and playful intentions of the instructor, a Slate article (Weaver, 2022) questions the ultimate benefits of these stunts and explores the reason why most students just glance at the syllabus as opposed to dedicating time and attention to such an important document: “the biggest reason students skip such a crucial step is simple: Many syllabi are unreadable. They’re too long and clogged with opaque, administration-mandated fine print. Some are written with an eye toward a student challenging a grade—that is to say punitively, from a defensive crouch.” I also appreciate how the author of the article reminds how “syllabi not only set up expectations for a class, but are usually the first introduction to the professor. In other words, bad ones can create and perpetuate bad relationships.”
Recently, I have felt more and more that syllabi seem to be written as a weaver of liability for instructors as opposed to being written to provide resources for students. Of course this is a generalization, but it is important to open up the question and explore strategies that can help instructors create better syllabi and encourage students to actually read them.
FRIDAY FORUM: MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Faculty Development will offer a Friday Forum on February 25th (11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.) as a chance to discuss this complicated topic and to pause for a moment to think conceptually about what a syllabus should truly accomplish.
The forum, “So, the students aren’t reading the syllabus, ah?” is designed as a conversation where we can brainstorm ideas about what the function of a syllabus should be and what challenges students face in approaching an overwhelming syllabus. We will also explore alternative formats and ideas to creating engaging syllabi, such as infographics, course maps, and video syllabi.
And don’t forget that attending this workshop will count towards the FDEV Challenge!
Share ideas on our blog about strategies that have worked in your syllabi to engage students!
2 thoughts on “why are students not reading the syllabus?”
Back in 2014, I created an infographic style syllabus. The content is now completely outdated, as we’re not even using the same materials anymore, but here it is if you’d like to see it! I definitely want to revisit this style of syllabus presentation. http://beckibrunelli.com/graphic-syllabus.html
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Last semester, for my virtual classes, I also created a “Choose Your Own Adventure” activity using Qualtrics, where students had to answer questions based on the syllabus, which would take them down different pathways, and if they got it wrong, they had to start over. You can check it out here: https://csuchico.sjc1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_ahHpo20vYKgzkgK
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