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How many of your students actually read the course syllabus?

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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.
You're highlighting some of the big differences between research universities and teaching universities. I taught in a community college for 18 years (equivalent to the first two years of college if this term is unfamiliar to you). Our focus was completely on teaching. When new teachers were hired, they went through a three-year tenure process in which a tenure committee frequently observed the new teacher and his/her class presentation, speaking ability, organization, and student reviews at the end of the term. When I was there (I left in '97) about a third of our students were transferring to four-year institutions, and many of the students in my more advanced classes were pursuing engineering degrees. I had many whom I talked to after they transferred who felt they got a solid foundation while they were at my college.
houlahound said:
Today's student are more complex, more diverse and departments want to see student numbers in one end and out the other.
Granted that student populations are more diverse, but can you back up your claim that students are more complex now? During the time I taught at the college, I saw the number of remedial math classes we offered continually increase. One term towards the time I left teaching, we were offering 25 different sections of remedial math, in basic arithmetic or pre-algebra. These were classes that the students ostensibly had in about 8th and 9th grades.

Regarding the "throughput" of students, there's a huge conflict between pushing students through the pipeline and maintaining standards.
houlahound said:
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.
For a research institution, having a record of published papers is a priority -- less so in teaching institutions.
 
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I can only offer that contemporary students are more complex because the world they live in is more complex, more uncertain, more demanding, faster, less forgiving.

They having almost infinite, instant choices and distractions continually thrown at them doesn't help.
 
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I can only offer that contemporary students are more complex because the world they live in is more complex, more uncertain, more demanding, faster, less forgiving.
This is a myopic view, IMO, and one that seemingly is ignorant of history. My parents lived through the Great Depression, in which unemployment in the U.S. hit 25%. Many of the safety nets that are in place now did not exist. Then there was WW II, which came only 21 years after the end of the previous World War. Talk about uncertain times...

houlahound said:
They having almost infinite, instant choices and distractions continually thrown at them doesn't help.
But they can choose to disconnect from these choices and distractions.
 

Dr. Courtney

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I can only offer that contemporary students are more complex because the world they live in is more complex, more uncertain, more demanding, faster, less forgiving.

They having almost infinite, instant choices and distractions continually thrown at them doesn't help.
Since those distractions do not end at graduation, there is some usefulness is sorting out the students who can do what they are supposed to do in spite of the distractions from those who cannot. Part of effective teaching is not passing students who cannot manage to be responsible for learning.
 

Apple_Mango

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.
Why didn't you give out Ds? How very strange. I never heard of a teacher doing this.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Why didn't you give out Ds? How very strange. I never heard of a teacher doing this.
Over the course of several semesters, several facts had become clear to me:

1. Students aiming for Ds would learn very little physics and never complete the homework.
2. Most students at the 2 year school were intending to transfer to STEM majors at a 4 year school. The course credit would not transfer for students who had earned Ds.
3. Ds were a false comfort: they gave the appearance of passing the course, but didn't apply for bachelor's degree credit, and didn't represent real learning that course credit should signify.
4. The intent (and outcome) of the policy was that most students who would otherwise be satisfied with a D would work harder, learn quite a bit of physics, and earn a C - thus securing both useful knowledge as well as credit that would transfer.
5. Students who fell into the classic D percentage range (60-69%) were not prepared for any of the courses for which the intro physics course was a prerequisite. Failure rates in subsequent courses were very high.
6. An F at midterm was a much more effective wake up call than a D.
 

Apple_Mango

Over the course of several semesters, several facts had become clear to me:

1. Students aiming for Ds would learn very little physics and never complete the homework.
2. Most students at the 2 year school were intending to transfer to STEM majors at a 4 year school. The course credit would not transfer for students who had earned Ds.
3. Ds were a false comfort: they gave the appearance of passing the course, but didn't apply for bachelor's degree credit, and didn't represent real learning that course credit should signify.
4. The intent (and outcome) of the policy was that most students who would otherwise be satisfied with a D would work harder, learn quite a bit of physics, and earn a C - thus securing both useful knowledge as well as credit that would transfer.
5. Students who fell into the classic D percentage range (60-69%) were not prepared for any of the courses for which the intro physics course was a prerequisite. Failure rates in subsequent courses were very high.
6. An F at midterm was a much more effective wake up call than a D.
Ok, I see.
 

symbolipoint

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Over the course of several semesters, several facts had become clear to me:

1. Students aiming for Ds would learn very little physics and never complete the homework.
2. Most students at the 2 year school were intending to transfer to STEM majors at a 4 year school. The course credit would not transfer for students who had earned Ds.
3. Ds were a false comfort: they gave the appearance of passing the course, but didn't apply for bachelor's degree credit, and didn't represent real learning that course credit should signify.
4. The intent (and outcome) of the policy was that most students who would otherwise be satisfied with a D would work harder, learn quite a bit of physics, and earn a C - thus securing both useful knowledge as well as credit that would transfer.
5. Students who fell into the classic D percentage range (60-69%) were not prepared for any of the courses for which the intro physics course was a prerequisite. Failure rates in subsequent courses were very high.
6. An F at midterm was a much more effective wake up call than a D.
Ok, I see.
Understandable.

Important is that the C should represent some useful learning. D or F are not much different from each other, since either or both represent inadequate learning.
 

Apple_Mango

All of my professors have gone over the syllabus which takes up to 20 minutes. Don't you guys do that? I usually read the syllabus three times myself just to be on the safe side. The syllabus has incredibly important like how many points do exams have or attendance policy.

I cringe whenever my professors have rules like how students aren't allowed to bring children. Like seriously? You didn't need to have that rule in there.
 
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I cringe whenever my professors have rules like how students aren't allowed to bring children. Like seriously? You didn't need to have that rule in there.
I doubt that there are many class syllabi with this restriction. If it's something you saw, however, it is probably there because students in a previous class did exactly that, causing a disruption in the class.
 

Apple_Mango

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.
I have to agree with this post. The fact that educators have the power to do all of this appears to be amiss to me. My English teacher made a rule on her syllabus that she marks students for being even one minute late to class. However, she never enforced this rule. She herself came in two minutes late to class one time. Never mind the fact that most workplaces give a person a grace period.

If she really did decide to enforce the rule, students couldn't do anything about it.
 
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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.
I have to agree with this post. The fact that educators have the power to do all of this appears to be amiss to me. My English teacher made a rule on her syllabus that she marks students for being even one minute late to class. However, she never enforced this rule. She herself came in two minutes late to class one time. Never mind the fact that most workplaces give a person a grace period.

If she really did decide to enforce the rule, students couldn't do anything about it.
With regard to houlahound's post that you quoted, the instructor is usually not the sole arbiter of the course content, structure, scope, and purpose. Normally, the course won't be too far from the same course as taught by other members of the department. As far as grading standards, those are typically up to the instructor. If the standards for a particular course section are really out of whack, students can (and usually will) complain to the department chairman. If too many students complain, the instructor's supervisor will most likely take a closer look at that particular instructor's methods.

houlahound seems (or rather, seemed, since he is now banned) to be under the impression that the classroom is a democracy, with everyone, including the instructor, having an equal vote. IMO, that isn't and shouldn't be the case. What qualifies the instructor to set up the course a particular way is some expertise in the area covered in the course, expertise that the students don't have.

Regarding your Englilsh instructor, I doubt that there are many department chairs who would fault her for enforcing a tardiness policy. Inasmuch as she didn't enforce the policy and was late once herself doesn't detract from having such a policy -- it just points out some hypocrisy on her part for being late. As to the policy itself, maybe it was intended to be only a threat, to encourage students to come to class on time.

I'm not sure that "most workplaces" give a person a grace period. Many years ago I was disciplined at a factory job I had for coming in late; namely, I was transferred to a much less desirable place in the plant, with much less desirable hours. Just a few days ago, I was talking with a friend who works for Seattle Metro. He mentioned that it was impossible for him to take the bus to work (Metro is the bus company in Seattle), because the erratic bus schedule would cause him to be late to work, which would trigger disciplinary action.
 
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Dr. Courtney

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I'm not sure that "most workplaces" give a person a grace period.
When I flipped burgers at Wendy's (high school and college), the standing instruction was to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled shift to attend to preliminaries (storing stuff in break area, getting uniform into compliance, signing the time card) so that one could begin the shift on time and ready. Employees who were late (not ready to begin the shift exactly on time) had their hours reduced.

When I was a math prof at the United States Air Force Academy, we were absolutely expected to be in class early and ready to start every class right on time. We were training officers and setting a good example was not optional. Likewise, it was required that we report all unexcused cadet (student) absences and tardiness in a centralized system that gave immediate notice to the cadet's military chain of command. The US taxpayer was paying (roughly) $100,000 each year to educate these students, and there were systems in place to ensure they received maximum benefit from the investment. Should expectations be lower for the future stewards of our weapons of war?

On the rare occasions where a prof needed to be absent or late, it was absolutely required to arrange another teacher in the course to be there on time in our place or (failing that) to inform the course director soon enough so they could make the necessary arrangements. The expectations for my wife were similar when she taught in the West Point Physics department.
 
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I'm not sure that "most workplaces" give a person a grace period. Many years ago I was disciplined at a factory job I had for coming in late; namely, I was transferred to a much less desirable place in the plant, with much less desirable hours.
When I flipped burgers at Wendy's (high school and college), the standing instruction was to arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled shift to attend to preliminaries (storing stuff in break area, getting uniform into compliance, signing the time card) so that one could begin the shift on time and ready. Employees who were late (not ready to begin the shift exactly on time) had their hours reduced.
Similar story: Years ago I was a "manager trainee" at a chain of locally-owned stores in the Dominos Pizza franchise system. There was an ironclad rule for all trainees & all managers: never ever be late opening a store. The store opened exactly at the designated time, ready to serve customers, or you were fired (obviously there were provisions for sickness or emergency, provided you notified in time). And I know this rule was enforced, because I once arrived at the store I was training at to find my manager sitting there by himself quite glum; he had been late opening the day before & had just gotten word he was fired & a replacement manager was on the way over. The rule was understood & respected by all because it was about serving the customer as promised.

One side effect is that it trained me to expect the same standard of other stores & operations. Even now, 35 years later, I use it as a mini-yardstick to judge the commitment of a retail store or other operation to customers: do they respect my time enough to be on time themselves? I was once shopping for a particular imported guitar amplifier. Only one store had it locally, about a 45 minute drive from me. I was there at opening time, the owner was not. He arrived 15 minutes or so late & it seemed this was usual for him. He demo'd the amp for me; we talked a bit about guitars & amps & servicing them; and from other things he said, it became clear his lateness in opening extended to other sloppy business practices & an implicit contempt for some of his customers. So I walked away from buying from him & eventually bought the amp from an online store.
 
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vela

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I have to agree with this post. The fact that educators have the power to do all of this appears to be amiss to me. My English teacher made a rule on her syllabus that she marks students for being even one minute late to class. However, she never enforced this rule. She herself came in two minutes late to class one time. Never mind the fact that most workplaces give a person a grace period.

If she really did decide to enforce the rule, students couldn't do anything about it.
During a discussion about what to include on a syllabus, one instructor related a conversation he had with a representative from one of the local employers. The rep noted that the company had recently cut back on hiring new grads because many turned out to be poor employees. The new hires didn't seem to understand that getting to places on time mattered, that not paying attention and texting during meetings wasn't acceptable, that meeting deadlines was important, etc. He noted instructors weren't doing students any favors by not setting some basic rules and expecting students to meet them.

A colleague of mine likes to point out that students expect the instructor to show up on time. Why should students be held to a lesser standard?

Typically, these class policies aren't meant for the student who comes in late one day because her car wouldn't start. It's for those students who chronically think it's okay to wander into class 10 to 20 minutes late every single time.
 

symbolipoint

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The discussion is drifting some as in post #64 and #65. Along that line of drift, there was a college class of which the instructor was absent for at least 6 class meetings during a semester term, for medical reasons. You would hope or think that the department would put in a substitute instructor to patch those absenses, but NO SUBSTITUTE TEACHER WAS EVER ASSIGNED and the six class meetings were cancelled instead. Any responsibility, or accountability, for any syllabus for this?
 

mathwonk

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fortunately i did not make a rule against bringing children to class since there were days when i needed to bring my own, my wife being in medical school. unfortunately i gave in once to the temptation to call on my 12 year old son, seated in the front row, to answer a question on algebra, which unkindly embarrassed some in the class of college kids who did not themselves all know the answer.

As to the last post, all classes are covered at my school, and a professor who canceled several classes to go to a conference without having them covered was dismissed from his position for this.
 

Vanadium 50

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which unkindly embarrassed some in the class of college kids who did not themselves all know the answer.
In high school, the calculus teacher was famous for bringing in a freshman to correct our algebra mistakes. It wasn't long before our accuracy improved.
 

Dr. Courtney

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fortunately i did not make a rule against bringing children to class since there were days when i needed to bring my own, my wife being in medical school. unfortunately i gave in once to the temptation to call on my 12 year old son, seated in the front row, to answer a question on algebra, which unkindly embarrassed some in the class of college kids who did not themselves all know the answer.

As to the last post, all classes are covered at my school, and a professor who canceled several classes to go to a conference without having them covered was dismissed from his position for this.
With the permission of the admins, I've been bringing my home schooled 12th grade son to a STEM project class I've been guest teaching these past few weeks. He's done lots of science projects and been a big help to me in the past mentoring student science projects. He wanted to come, both to help and because he was keenly interested in the project the class picked: measuring the work required to draw a compound bow and then relating the draw work to the resulting arrow velocity as measured with a chronograph.

In high school, the calculus teacher was famous for bringing in a freshman to correct our algebra mistakes. It wasn't long before our accuracy improved.
The level of care in algebra is a perennial challenge with students, but once an experiment starts, the level of focus and care on experimental details and measurement accuracy has been a bigger challenge. Another set of hands and eyes has proven handy when the arrows start flying. It's easy to see why so many physics and chemistry experiments have evolved into simple and uninteresting to make them harder for inattentive students to mess up.
 

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