What if a professor created syllabus that more accurately communicated their passion for their subject matter and their enthusiasm for student-centered learning? What if a syllabus could be dynamic enough to allow for nimble, timely and innovative teaching opportunities? What if a syllabus could show how creative the learners and the instructor will be during the semester?
Ken Bain, in his book, What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard University Press, 2004), asks if college professors change the idea of what a syllabus is, will the change stimulate deep and more enthusiastic student learning. After observing, interviewing and studying the most successful professors, he concludes that the best college teachers provide the students with a “promising syllabus”. Bain believes the syllabus is the beginning of a conversation that begins with a promise to students. What is promised is a clear learning process and a way for students to monitor the progress they are making in their learning. He says, “We can begin to reconstruct the environment in which our students learn with a syllabus that makes promises rather than demands, inviting students to a deliciously provocative intellectual or artistic feast.” Sometimes what we serve up as a syllabus feels less like an invitation to a promising feast and more like an obligatory second helping of spinach, scooped up and plopped on the plate by someone stating “It’s good for you.”
What We Call the Syllabus
A syllabus is often called a contract, agreement, schedule, curriculum or outline
In academia, the syllabus is a document that summarizes the course information, outlines the course curriculum and states the expectations of the teacher and the learner. While it is absolutely essential that a syllabus help create a strong framework to help the professor and students stay organized and synchronized throughout the semester, it is unfortunate that the very definition implies an agenda, driven by an instructor to which a student must comply. It is often the case that a professor defaults to using the same type of black and white, multi-page, text-heavy word document that they received when they were students. It is most unfortunate that the students rarely see any value in a syllabus like this. Instead they accept it as a tool to help them check off the readings and assignments or a tool to help them strategically get a satisfactory grade.
What Does A Teaching Philosophy Have to Do with a Syllabus?
In many ways, the syllabus is rooted in the instructor’s philosophy of education and view of the educational process. To create a syllabus that aligns with a particular philosophy of education, a professor must consider their beliefs about the roles of the student, the teacher, the activities and the materials. The professor who creates an engaging syllabus is cognizant of three keys: First, they have a strong sense of their individual teaching style and have the ability to communicate it to their student. Parker Palmer, in The Courage to Teach, reminds us that the most valuable teaching is born from the values and integrity of the instructor (Jossey-Bass, 2007). Second, they help students make connections between the course content and the course goals. When a professor can clearly articulate the course goals for the students, they can design the course in a backward way to ensure that each body of knowledge, skill and experience is available and accessible to all students. Finally, they communicate a clear understanding of what students need to be successful in the profession to which the students aspire. Such knowledge ensures a commitment to creating meaningful and authentic assignments.
What are Some Ways to Make a Syllabus More Engaging?
- Make the syllabus accessible: Check out Tulane University’s Accessible Syllabus site.
- Make the syllabus inclusive: Read this Chronicle of Higher Education blog post, and this article on the Social Justice Syllabus Design Tool.
- Make the syllabus visually inspiring: Try Piktochart. Here is a great article to help you get started. Rebecca Mills (CLT) and Warren Sides (ITS) have graciously shared their graphic syllabi as examples.
What are the Champlain College Syllabus Requirements?
- The Champlain College Syllabus Requirements are available on the Champlain College website.
- For fall 2020, syllabi are an important part of meeting the mandatory Course Standards. Please consult the standards to determine how to meet the requirements.
- Every course syllabus must include the Mandatory Verbatim Text. For the convenience of CC professors, the Canvas Course Syllabus page for every course shell now includes the mandatory elements.
Where can I find the optional language around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
The D&I Syllabus Statement Working Group developed completely optional language that faculty can utilize. It can be found in the DEI Toolkit. Contact the Center for Learning and Teaching if you are missing access to the DEI Toolkit. If you would like to create your own syllabus language, we recommend consulting the Toolkit, the DEI Faculty Training, and our page on DEI and Accessibility for Fall 2020.
What Support and Resources Does the Center for Learning and Teaching Provide?
- One-on-One coaching for envisioning, designing or creating a new syllabus
- Syllabus Checklist
- Canvas support
- One-on-One support using more enhanced syllabus components (by appointment)
- Uploading Your Syllabus to Canvas Guide
- Templates, sample syllabi and collaborative space. If you would like to work and collaborate with colleagues in a comfortable space (free coffee and snacks), please feel free to come to the Center for Learning and Teaching anytime from 9am-5pm. During COVID-19, the physical CLT is closed until further notice. You can schedule an appointment with us here.