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How many of your students actually read the course syllabus?

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jtbell

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Is Anybody Reading the Syllabus? To Find Out, Some Professors Bury Hidden Gems (Chronicle of Higher Education)

I never used the Easter-egg trick myself, but if I had a nickel for every time I answered a question about something that was in the syllabus (e.g. "How much does this test count towards the final grade?") I could have retired years ago. :-p

 
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My masters thesis had about 100 pages of technical proofs. I really doubted that any of the jury would go through these proofs. So I buried inside of one of the proofs the message "If you mention this on the thesis defense, you get a bottle of wine". To my great surprise, they all noticed the remark.
 

Vanadium 50

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My SB thesis advisor did something similar in his dissertation. Nobody spotted it.
 

jtbell

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For my PhD thesis, I did something similar and I ordered the chapters not by natural numbers but by prime numbers. So there were chapters 2,3,5,7,etc. Only one noticed this.
 

Andy Resnick

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Very few of my students read the syllabus. Which is unfortunate, because the syllabus is essentially a contractual agreement between teacher and student.
 

jtbell

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What's that?
A rather expensive Scotch whisky. A dealer's page that I turned up with a Google search offers bottles ranging from £40-£120 depending on the year.
 
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Wait, I don't understand. What is a syllabus? I always thought it was just a course notes, but apparently it's not...
 

George Jones

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Yup!
 

berkeman

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George Jones

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You're telling me that students don't take the time to read 3 pages of important information and deadlines???
Actually, it can be worse. One of my job duties is to coordinate the first-year labs (as well as teaching more advanced labs and sometimes teaching lecture courses). At the start of the semester, I email (as an attachement) each student in each lab section the times and dates of the eight labs. This takes a fraction of a page, eight lines of text, double-spaced. I often receive emails with questions like
"When do the labs start?"
"Do I have a lab this week?"
"When do the labs end?"

BTW, is it common to spell out e-mail addresses in publications like those? It's to make it harder to mine personal e-mail addresses, I suppose.
It is not uncommon, especially when a document is publicly available on the internet. Often, instructors make document available through password protected sites, and then the straight email address might be used. I don't put my outlines on the web. If I have a large class, I send the syllabus out as an attachment to a class email; if I have a small class class (looks like I have a class of 2 this fall), I give the students hardcopies in the first or second lecture.

My university regulations include

to provide students with a written course outline during the first week of classes, with a copy to the Member's Program Chair and Dean; and for graduate courses, copy the Dean of Graduate Programs. The outline shall include at least the following information:

(i) the name, office address, office telephone number, and weekly office hours of the Faculty Member;

(ii) the subject matter to be explored in the course; and (iii) a list of all required assignments and examinations and the relative weight of assignments and examinations in the final assessment of student performance. A Faculty Member may consult with the class about office hours, subject matter of the course and assignments, examinations and their weighting, and provide the class, the Program Chair and Dean, copies of the course outline following this consultation;
 
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vela

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In some of my courses, I have a syllabus quiz which has to be completed during the first week of classes. If students fail to take the quiz, I drop them. Even then, I still get questions that are answered on the syllabus. Some students have admitted to me that they know the answer to their question is on the syllabus, but they're just too lazy to look it up.
 
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When I went to school, I always read the syllabus (if you mean the sheet the professor gives out the first day of class as to how you will be evaluated). In general, the information about what textbooks are used or recommended is redundant, because you were expected to buy or otherwise procure the texts before the first day of class).

I am not sure but I think the percentages allocated to finals, midterms and homework were tentative as expected for the first day of class. I do not think of it as a legal contract that was binding. I do not know of any administration that would challenge the professor that he did not grade in accordance with that (early) sheet. As far as I know, the only way I could be sure of getting a higher mark as the other guy/gal was to beat him on every test, and paper. Otherwise I could never be sure.

After I read your article, I thought how would I respond to the request for "sending ALF to the professor" by E-mail or otherwise.

I am sure I would ignore such a silly request. This would certainly not mean that I had not read this far. Isn't it likely the professor was interrupted while writing the "syllabus" and the request for ALF was not meant for the physics or math class but the film class or some other (s)he was teaching. I personally know of cases where a colleague was interrupted by a phone call and started typing parts of the telephone conversation in the middle his E-mail to his embarrassment.

Shouldn't the student to professor and professor to student email be limited to official communication and reserved towards messages for successful course completion and understanding, and less towards internet jokes, unrelated stories, etc.
 

Andy Resnick

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In some of my courses, I have a syllabus quiz which has to be completed during the first week of classes. If students fail to take the quiz, I drop them. [...]
How do you 'drop students'?
 

jtbell

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How do you 'drop students'?
Here, we do it by notifying the registrar. The main reason it's done is when a student violates an instructor's absence policy, if there is one. We have a special form for that purpose. I don't remember anybody dropping a student for other reasons, but I expect it's possible, provided the syllabus clearly states the conditions for it.
 

vela

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How do you 'drop students'?
The students are no longer enrolled in the course, if that's what you're asking.

At first, I felt I was being mean, and a few times, I succumbed to a student's sob story and let him or her back into the course. But I don't recall a single instance where such a student completed the course. Now I don't feel bad about strictly enforcing the policy.
 
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I remember reading the syllabus primarily for a description of the topics covered. I thought the content of the courses was exciting. As far as a syllabus containing office hours (which were usually decided after the first day), or the textbook (usually you had to buy it before the first day). The allocation of percentages between the midterm, final, homework etc, was interesting but in the initial weeks you were unlikely to use this information in a meaningful way.
I cannot imagine a prosepective physics major saying, I'm not taking any physics the first year because the professor is using the final to determine 50% of the grade. I'll wait for next year when the professor might (?) count the final only 35%. For upper division classes, can any student gamble taking EM out of order, taking EM2 before EM1, or QM2 before QM 1, or taking stat mech before classical mech ,just because of some information in the syllabus? If this is the case, it would certainly explain a tendency for a BS degree to take > 4 years, as well as encouraging shopping around for desired teachers with desired grading criteria.

I think if I were a professor, I would rather have students interested in the topics, and not trying to "box the professor in", in the grading. I notice Shankar's class in mechanics in YouTube, the professor weighted the final not by a fixed percentage established in the beginning. Shankar suggested, if the student demonstrated competence in the final, he would downweight the midterms and exams leading up to the final (my words not his, refer to the youtube videos) . After all, he was more interested I what the student came away with at the end of the course.

Not all professors agree with this, but I certainly think professors should be given latitude in grading, over establishing a rigid equation of percentages the first day.
 
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I think if I were a professor, I would rather have students interested in the topics, and not trying to "box the professor in", in the grading. I notice Shankar's class in mechanics in YouTube, the professor weighted the final not by a fixed percentage established in the beginning. Shankar suggested, if the student demonstrated competence in the final, he would downweight the midterms and exams leading up to the final (my words not his, refer to the youtube videos) . After all, he was more interested I what the student came away with at the end of the course.

Not all professors agree with this, but I certainly think professors should be given latitude in grading, over establishing a rigid equation of percentages the first day.
Many colleges in the U.S. have established rules that the professor has to provide basic information about the course, including grading procedures, office hours, and a lot of other mundane stuff within the first week or so of the term. Part of the reasoning is to reduce the liability of possible lawsuits from students over the misrepresentation of the course, and so on. We're a very litigious bunch here in the states, so it pays to CYA, or at least that's the thinking amongst college administrators.
 

vela

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Not all professors agree with this, but I certainly think professors should be given latitude in grading, over establishing a rigid equation of percentages the first day.
You can concoct whatever elaborate grading scheme you want, but you need to explain it to the students so they know what to expect and what's expected of them.
 
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I also got tired of students asking the same mundane questions. But also I wanted to emphasize certain behaviors that were expected (no mobile device use during hazardous-activity Engineering labs, for example). I try to treat my Syllabus like a "contract" (and thank goodness for the "Instructor Prerogative" clause that gives me permission to deviate if needed).

I put in a good bit of detail about class topics, objectives, schedules, study assignments, behavior expectations, and grading policies "so that the students know the rules of the game" in advance. I wanted to put more rigor in my policies like no late assignments etc., because the constant negotiations with student's laziness was sucking up my available time & energy.

We use Blackboard as a LMS at my school, and I posted an online Syllabus Quiz worth a few points. Student's awareness of my class policies & expectations have improved a lot, and defused a lot of antagonistic & confrontational discussions. I'd recommend this strategy for everyone.
 

Andy Resnick

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Here, we do it by notifying the registrar.
The students are no longer enrolled in the course, if that's what you're asking.
Interesting. I don't think we can do that here- at least, I have never heard of an instance where an instructor dis-enrolled a student. If a student never shows up to class, I have three grading options: an 'F', an incomplete 'I', or an 'X' (which I think is unique to my institution). The difference between an 'I' and an 'X' is that 'I' means the student may only have missed a small amount of work and the student and instructor must explicitly agree to a completion date within 1 semester, while an 'X' is supposed to be used for the student who missed considerable amounts of school due to an emergency or other similar situation out of their control (deployment, for example).

There's days when I wish I could dis-enroll students.....
 

pasmith

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Many colleges in the U.S. have established rules that the professor has to provide basic information about the course, including grading procedures, office hours, and a lot of other mundane stuff within the first week or so of the term. Part of the reasoning is to reduce the liability of possible lawsuits from students over the misrepresentation of the course, and so on. We're a very litigious bunch here in the states, so it pays to CYA, or at least that's the thinking amongst college administrators.
The UK's Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education will not look kindly on you if you do not comply with its quality code, and by not having a syllabus approved by the degree-awarding body which at a minimum sets out the course content and assessment methods and criteria, or not following the one you have, you are not complying with Part B Chapter B6's second indicator of good practice and various of Part C's indicators of good practice.

Whether students bother to read it is a separate question, but the information (apart from detailed scheduling information) will have been in the prospectus which prospective students ought to have read, albeit possibly in less detail.
 

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