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How many of your students actually read the course syllabus?

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vela

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Interesting. I don't think we can do that here.
I think it's because I teach at community colleges, which are funded by the state based on enrollment. We're required to drop students who don't show up the first day or who stop attending regularly during the first two weeks of the semester. The rosters at the end of the two weeks determine how much money the state gives to the schools.
 

Fervent Freyja

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I read all of them before the first day of classes started on blackboard. I refer to the syllabus near every class throughout the semester. I have one that was 41 pages long this semester, which terrified me even further. I'm retaking Calculus I. I had to drop II a few semesters ago, I didn't believe I was getting the material well enough to be in there! He reviewed the entire thing on the first day and asked us to initial by each section and turn in more signed documents stating that we received the information. He actually printed it for us, which was nice! This course has near 60 graded pieces, so he also included checklists for us to use to keep up with grades (much appreciated), and also individual schedules/due dates for lectures, homework, in-class problem sets, quizzes, and exams. I don't consider the amount of work accompanying this course a problem as I normally would, because I very much need some forced assistance on the subject.

When I have 4 and 5 courses, being able to stay organized is important and knowing what is due within a certain time frame helps me prioritize what assignments or studying I should be doing, the syllabus helps with that. I have serious issues with procrastination and usually won't start studying for an exam until the day before, but my work is rarely ever late. My only real problem with the courses is that I loathe online homework assignments and being hand-fed information from e-books, I prefer lectures and being able to read the textbook, work problems and take notes by hand instead. I can easily get used textbooks cheap, but the online access codes range around $150 (not much less than a textbook + code package), many of mine have required one. The syllabus includes information about that too.

I don't see why other students would not read the syllabus, it seems essential in being able to pass the course. Everything that's needed to know is usually in it, I don't have to bother them with too many questions, if the answer is already in there.
 
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I really do not think that if a student does not comply with a request to send a dinosaur or ALF, (s)he has not read the syllabus. If the instructor offered to give the student > 5% on their grade if they send the dinosaur, then see how many dinosaurs they get. Of course, I think the instructor might have some explaining to do regarding their grading policies. I do feel few students will take the time to send the dinosaurs if they see no educational purpose, or higher evaluation.

Many years ago, during a social gathering just before colloquium, a professor (course instructor) repeatedly lamented, that during tests, the proctors had to answer questions clarifying the problems in his exams. He was quite a pest about it, and instructed his proctors to reply, "read the problem carefully". One day, he asked a question regarding the force on two capacitor plates after a switch was closed. However he did not state in the exam problem that there was (supposed to be an) applied voltage to the plate. (This was not a course in quantum theory and Casimir forces were not covered). When students asked their proctors, the proctors replied "read the problem carefully". About 60% of the class wrote the force is zero, because there is no applied voltage, or charge on the plates. Some others assumed a voltage V, or charge Q, etc. The bottom line was the instructor had to give full credit to the problem. This is a case of being "hoist by your own petard".
 

mathwonk

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I cannot be sure my students did not read my one page syllabus, but it did contain, once, a request for an email to me saying if a student had read it, and after a week I had gotten either zero or one response as I recall. The syllabus also contained explicit lists of prerequisite topics to be understood well before taking the course, but subsequent experience revealed very few had such prior knowledge. it also contained an explicit formula for the final grade computation and rules for attendance, as well as the date and time of the final, which many students expressed ignorance of later. It also contained express language as to the level of performance required on tests, e.g. the need to reproduce certain proofs, very few of which were in fact reproduced later. Many students also complained as to what was asked even though it had been clearly stated. I suspect many did not read the syllabus, others did not take it seriously, and still others failed to grasp the meaning of the clearly enunciated terms. Perhaps others allowed themselves the luxury of thinking that the requirement to understand the prerequisites well was fulfilled by their having passed the prior course with a D, even though I gave as examples the need to be able to rattle off perfectly the definitions of certain terms and the statements of certain explicitly named theorems, which most could not do.

Indeed since these syllabi were such an ineffective teaching tool, I suspect the requirement upon me to provide them was more a legal device by the university administration hoping to stave off possible suits from students alleging ill treatment.

Now that I am old I wish I had another chance to teach my students how to learn, and the importance of doing what their professors suggest, rather than assuming that is their responsibility.
 
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Slightly OT but how many people read licence agreements when installing software?
 

Dr. Courtney

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This conversation is uncomfortably close at times to suggesting that instructors are to blame for lazy students who do not even bother to read the most basic course materials.

I'm on the other side of the instructor equation now, mentoring a number of early college students navigating their way through their first few semesters. The syllabus is the essential feature of navigating each course, along with the instructor provided resources on course schedules, assignments, graded events, etc.

When I served as a classroom instructor, I handed out paper copies of the syllabus, spent 5-10 minutes highlighting the most essential features, and then moved on. Helping students grow up sometimes means letting them receive the consequences of negligence. Some years ago, some students got a rude awakening when they figured out near the end of the semester that my grading scale was A, B, C, F at 90%, 80%, and 70%, respectively. There was no D. This scale had been approved at a department meeting as long as it was "clearly communicated on the syllabus." It was mentioned briefly in class also, and all the graded events reflected it as they were returned.

At some point, higher authorities at the college objected and insisted I have Ds as a possible grade, so I added a D range of 68% to 70% to the syllabus.
 

vela

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Slightly OT but how many people read licence agreements when installing software?
That's not really comparable. You can generally use software without reading the EULA, but imagine going into a course where the instructor tells you absolutely nothing about what's expected of you. You don't know what you'll be graded on, when the tests are, when the homework is due, if the homework is due, etc. The syllabus lays these expectations out for the students.
 
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I don't think some here know what a syllabus actually is.
 
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I googled it to check. Seems course overview, assessment calendar, assessment policy, topic overview, curriculum, pedagogy statement..... are all used interchangeably these days.

Before this thread I never heard of assessment dates being part of a syllabus.
 
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To clarify, the syllabus (to me) is not determined by the course instructor thankfully.
 
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That's not really comparable. You can generally use software without reading the EULA, but imagine going into a course where the instructor tells you absolutely nothing about what's expected of you. You don't know what you'll be graded on, when the tests are, when the homework is due, if the homework is due, etc. The syllabus lays these expectations out for the students.
I just downloaded, legally, a beast of a software package. The conditions of use were negotiated in the quote. I went to work at an ungodly hour when no other users were on the network to do the install. I went thru the installation wizard blindly clicking yes to everything. It took several hours and if you walked away the installation paused at several points waiting for a yes.

I basically gave up my computer to an external body. I actually got nervous giving up the network and called my unappreciative IT tech guy.

All went well but read the agreements... I think not.
 
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mathwonk

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So amusing to someone who went to college in the 1960's. The only "syllabus" was a reading list. No expectations, no grading formula, no list of legal rights. You were just expected to figure out what was expected and deliver it. Eventually I learned there existed old copies of math exams from prior years, and for philosophy was advised that one would be wise to make ones papers entertaining to the grader, i.e. not just parroted pablum. You learned by experience, starting from your first D, to improve your writing until it passed muster. The first paper in my expos class earned the 40 of us 38 C's, one D and one B. (I got a "C-, lucky it wasn't a D"), My first A- in lit (on James Joyce) was a real source of pride. The first A I got in math was on an exam where I answered all 10 questions on a "answer any 7" exam, and included a proof of the one theorem that had been omitted in class (that a uniform limit of continuous functions is continuous, as I recall, from 55 years ago, on the way to proving the existence theorem for 1st order ode's via the contraction lemma).

Oh yes, and I do read the licensing agreements for software I use, and websites I use. Sometimes you learn something interesting. I advise doing this as well when buying a home, i.e. when agreeing to a mortgage loan.
 
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PeroK

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I don't think some here know what a syllabus actually is.
My dictionary says:

"An outline of a course of studies, text etc."

Not to be confused with:

1) Syllable
2) Syllabub
3) Silly bus
 
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So if you write the syllabus as the instructor do you also choose the content, the scope, the criteria, the purpose, the intent, the rationale, the course structure, the course design, do you set the standard of achievement, quality control the standard you set yourself etc.

What qualifies you to do all this and how do you know you are right?

Something seems amiss to me.
 
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Vanadium 50

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What qualifies you to do all this
As often is the case, Steve Dutch at UWGB says it the best:

"Columbia University said I was an expert when they granted me a doctorate. The State of Wisconsin said I was an expert when they hired me in their University System, gave me tenure, made me a full professor, and made me a Registered Geologist."
 
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I don't think some here know what a syllabus actually is.

We did not have a written clearcut syllabus at all in our last physics class.. we did have deadlines online for some programming oriented physics homework. But the thing that annoyed me was that each of our teachers (in the same period) specified different policies for the purpose of returning homework for review in such cases when the student is unable to be present at homework review day (but the said student still wants homework credit).

Our school website had perfectly adequate functionality already for the purrpose of returning homework so I just dont get why some teachers want that homework returned into their email adress and some specifically want homework into the online return bin on the school website...

But in the beginning lesson I think our teacher did say that the thursday classes are for the purpose of lectures an fridays are for the purpose of homework reviewing and maybe asking abouy unclear situations in physics broadly speaking.

What I would have liked to have was some commitment from our teacher that he could upload course material in advance into our school online site. Therefore the students could have read in advance of lecture class, what we would be doing in the lecture class.

Becausr we did not even have official textbook or ebook in the course. But I think that the teacher made PDFs from some of his old lecture materials which acted as a resource.

I will surelyy pass that as a comment to my teacher for future reference. Becausr I think it helps classroom engagement a little bit when students review some material in advance of a class, like that. Certainly that style is often used in math classes that students are encouriged to review relevant pages from textbook before lecture.
 
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jtbell

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I don't think some here know what a syllabus actually is.
I think Mark44's comment upstream aptly summarizes the purpose of the "syllabus", in the sense used at colleges and universities in the US, although he didn't specifically use that word.
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.
To clarify, the syllabus (to me) is not determined by the course instructor thankfully.
In the US, the syllabus for a course is indeed usually determined by the instructor, generally subject to approval by his/her department. We have a great deal of latitude in grading (marking) and other class-management policies, provided that they are clearly stated in the syllabus.
 
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think Mark44's comment upstream aptly summarizes the purpose of the "syllabus", in the sense used at colleges and universities in the US, although he didn't specifically use that word.
Yes, that's exactly what I was saying.
 

mathwonk

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This idea of defining your grade scale went through my mind this morning when we served pancakes and the syrup bottle says "grade A, dark, robust flavor". As anyone knows from a previous generation, dark maple syrup was always called grade "B", and grade "A" means light syrup. But now no one wants a B on his syrup, even if it connotes the dark robust syrup they prefer, it has to be A. Some bottles now even say "grade A dark (formerly grade B)". I guess those qualifying statements on the label are meant as the syllabus for the consumer.
 

vela

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So if you write the syllabus as the instructor do you also choose the content, the scope, the criteria, the purpose, the intent, the rationale, the course structure, the course design, do you set the standard of achievement, quality control the standard you set yourself etc.
We have a separate document called a course outline of record that sets out many of the requirements for a course. These requirements are decided on by the departments, and an instructor is supposed to teach a course that satisfies them.
 

Dr. Courtney

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This idea of defining your grade scale went through my mind this morning when we served pancakes and the syrup bottle says "grade A, dark, robust flavor". As anyone knows from a previous generation, dark maple syrup was always called grade "B", and grade "A" means light syrup. But now no one wants a B on his syrup, even if it connotes the dark robust syrup they prefer, it has to be A. Some bottles now even say "grade A dark (formerly grade B)". I guess those qualifying statements on the label are meant as the syllabus for the consumer.
I see what you did there.
 
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I think better outcomes would be if experts in their field that instruct learners teamed with professional educators trained in course design and pegagogy.
 

Dr. Courtney

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I think better outcomes would be if experts in their field that instruct learners teamed with professional educators trained in course design and pegagogy.
Perhaps, but the bottom line is that it's up to the individual departments rather than you.

At the Air Force Academy (and West Point), they made use of course directors who designed the syllabus, all the lessons, tests, grading rubrics, etc. The faculty all underwent training for the big courses (freshman Calc, Physics, etc.) under the leadership of the course director who had even more training with professional educators regarding course design and pedagogy.

Here's a snippet of the training I had before writing a syllabus at the Air Force Academy:

United States Air Force Supervisor's Course, 2010, Maxwell AFB United States
Air Force Civilian Personnel Management Course, 2010, Maxwell AFB
USAFA Center for Excellence in Education Course Administrators Workshop, 2010
USAFA Department of Mathematical Sciences Course Directors Training, 2010
USAFA Department of Mathematical Sciences New Instructor Training, 2009

It worked pretty well, better in my opinion, than the "academic freedom" many profs have at other institutions to roll their own courses regardless of qualifications or experience. But the bottom line is, however it is done, the method employed has the oversight and approval of the departments.
 
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My highest credentialed undergraduate lecturer a significant academic in pioneering NMR really struggled with basic course organization and presentation. I reworked some of his badly presented notes written in the 70's on transparencies with hand written scrawl nobody could read, smudges on them, always out of order, mistakes, missing pages etc.

Great academic and person but he was never trained in public speaking or instruction giving. This stuff is not natural for many people and needs to be learned.

Today's student are more complex, more diverse and departments want to see student numbers in one end and out the other.

There should support for instructors to cope with modern teaching demands. a great publication record in specialist literature does not always prepare someone to teach effectively.
 
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