Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Reader Harkens Back to the Good Old Days, When Syllabi Didn't Have to Be Scoured for Loopholes

25 years ago, when I was an undergraduate, a syllabus for a class would be at most 2 sheets of paper that contained not much more than the text assignments, course schedule and the office hours and phone number of the instructor.

The syllabi that I compose are twice as long and include items such as what constitutes appropriate behavior, what constitutes cheating, and the various consequences of a student's action (or inaction). If I don't include these missives (and the student has a complaint) then like as not the administration sides with the student.

The syllabus has morphed into a document more closely resembling a contract than a source of information on the course and a part of my time and is spent checking for loopholes when I compose a new one. I'm spending a disproportional amount of energy for a small percent of students. The insult to injury is that most students don't even read their syllabus. I have a 25-point syllabus worksheet that's due on the second class day and a 25 point syllabus quiz on the fourth day of lecture. I never mention the quiz (which is mentioned in the syllabus and has the exact same questions as the worksheet) and there are always students who are caught by surprise and are angry that I did not mention the quiz in the previous lecture. Many students also seem angry when their question, "When is the next exam?" or, "When is the assignment due?" is answered with, "Look in your syllabus," as I can't keep track of the schedule for each of the 3 classes I teach each quarter.

I guess the part that gets my goat is the number of students, still fewer than 50%, who won't accept responsibility for anything they do. Either they were not informed, they lost the document with the information, or they should not be held to the same standard as the rest of their classmates.