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Featured How many of your students actually read the course syllabus?

  1. Sep 2, 2016 #1

    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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  3. Sep 2, 2016 #2

    micromass

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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.
     
  4. Sep 2, 2016 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    My SB thesis advisor did something similar in his dissertation. Nobody spotted it.
     
  5. Sep 2, 2016 #4

    jtbell

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    Good thing you didn't offer them Glenlivet. :cool:
     
  6. Sep 2, 2016 #5

    micromass

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    What's that?
     
  7. Sep 2, 2016 #6

    micromass

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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.
     
  8. Sep 2, 2016 #7

    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.
     
  9. Sep 2, 2016 #8

    jtbell

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    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.
     
  10. Sep 2, 2016 #9

    micromass

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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...
     
  11. Sep 2, 2016 #10

    George Jones

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  12. Sep 2, 2016 #11

    micromass

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  13. Sep 2, 2016 #12

    George Jones

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  14. Sep 2, 2016 #13

    berkeman

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  15. Sep 2, 2016 #14

    George Jones

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    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?"

    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

     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2016
  16. Sep 2, 2016 #15

    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.
     
  17. Sep 2, 2016 #16
    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.
     
  18. Sep 6, 2016 #17

    Andy Resnick

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    How do you 'drop students'?
     
  19. Sep 6, 2016 #18

    jtbell

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    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.
     
  20. Sep 6, 2016 #19

    vela

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    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.
     
  21. Sep 6, 2016 #20
    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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