Posts Tagged ‘Course Syllabi’

Almost as if she had read my post about reifying arbitrary decisions on my syllabi (I’m sure she hasn’t!), Tenured Radical recently posted about her view that syllabi are guides, not contracts. She states:

Most people feel committed to the syllabus they handed out on the first day of class. I understand this. You worked hard on that syllabus and it represents your mastery of a field. It is a symbol of your intellectual authority and autonomy. Finally, even if you want to change it, you may not think that you are allowed to change it. Many faculty and students regard a syllabus as a contract between teacher and student that should not, and cannot, be changed.

But syllabus isn’t a contract: it’s a guide, and a set of appointments you keep every week.  It lays out the scope, logic and promise of the course, offers signposts in the form of topics, requires some readings and suggests other readings that the more ambitious student might wish to pursue. It articulates basic expectations for what students must do (how many papers? How long? Will problem sets be accepted late?), and it spells out as when and how work must be accomplished.

For precisely these reasons, if your syllabus is flawed you must change it. Teaching a syllabus that you have lost confidence in is like choosing to drive a car with a flat tire.

Although I have never substantially altered a syllabus during the semester I agree that flexibility might help a floundering course. To her advice I would add a caution not to remove assignments or change the point distribution in a way that will make it harder for students who have struggled during the first portion of a course to feel like they can bring their grades up. Whether or not they actually will bring their grades up is another issue, but I am always in favor of their ability to feel like they can!

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