Read Preparing a Learner Focused Syllabus. You may have already seen this article if you’ve participated in OER/ZTC Course Redesign or Open Pedagogy Assignment. For other takes on the topic, you can also look at Liquid Syllabus and Toward Cruelty-Free Syllabi.
As you’re reading, consider these spark questions:
- What is learner/learning-focused about your syllabus and other course documents?
- What changes might you make to be more learner/learning-focused?
Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
14 thoughts on “What changes might you make to your syllabus?”
I loved reading Matthew Cheney’s ideas on cruelty-free syllabi.
My own syllabi tend to be somewhat generic, even while I include notes that encourage students to reach out to be if they miss class and/ or fall behind with coursework.
Based on my own observations, not many students read the syllabus from front to back.
In response to this observation, I like to create a document called “the course guide” which is like a mini-syllabus, 1-3 pages long, and includes all course topics, assignments, and due dates. Now, after viewing Cheney’s ideas, I am going to add to that mini-syllabus–Cheney’s fluid policies on deadlines, absences and grades are not far from my own practices, but I admire the way Cheney verbalizes those practices, in a very humane voice and tone. This is what I intend to do as well. I am also considering adding actual slides to my OL course sites, something easy to find and reference for students, that will highlight course policies in a cruel-free way in addition to the course guide. Cheney’s slides sound very conversational and positive, which I appreciate. For example, Cheney writes that asking for help is GOOD. This is an amazing way to think about reaching out to a professor, or anyone else on campus.
My class is developed around Socrates’ appeal to self-realization through self-knowledge. I tried to develop my syllabus as a scaffolding for unveiling a dialectical movement of becoming who I am.
I guess my syllabus could benefit in emphasizing in its design the process of learning as inter-subjective process of mutual self-interrogation.
The article reflects an American distaste and suspicion of education and its motives. I feel it speaks more to the inner thinking of the author than to the goals and perceptions of instructors. We do not live in the days of Tom Sawyer. We should be aware of the microaggressions, which are perpetrated against us, as instructors. The sad result in Mr. Cheney’s case is that he feels the need to seek public penance for the imagined crimes of suggesting: students attend class, submit work on time, call him by his name, or even use an appropriate pronoun.
I love the idea of a learner-focused syllabus. I’m all for building upon students’ strengths and encouraging open communication. (Still, I’m not sure how to adapt an absentee/lateness policy with this.) I don’t think that I can change mine since it is generated from my department.
I think if the COVID Pandemic has taught me anything it is that I need to be more flexible when it comes to grading and that students want to be heard. So, having made some changes already to my syllabus, I think that it is safe to say that I do use a mix of a Liquid Syllabus and a Cruelty-Free one. I still hold my students accountable in regards to submitting essay assignments, but I am a more flexible when it comes to accepting late work. In addition, I also allow my students to revise their work multiple times. So, the students *have* a chance be successful in the class–it is just up to them to put in the work.
Lastly, in my syllabus, I think that I will make it clear to my students that asking for help is important! All they have to do is ask, and I am here to help them through any issues they might have regarding their work. Team work makes the dream work!
I got some training on this a year or so ago (can’t remember which one but the usual suspects were involved) and I changed my syllabus’ tone a lot and split it into two parts. The first part is where I thank them for taking the class and let them know they’re in charge of their grade (ungrading) and how all that works. And I give them the basics of the class–assignments, schedule, etc., the stuff I think they want to know up front. I try to write all this in a friendly and relaxed way that reflects who I am. Then I tell them that the second part is what the administration makes us put in the syllabus and highlight the more useful information (like ARC–in case they need any help with food, housing, etc.) and that they might want to look at it. Honestly, I’m not sure if they read any of it so I try to keep it to the point. I like the sentiment behind the cruelty free syllabus but it’s kind of wordy.
Like Ewa, i have been distributing a course schedule of late, in addition to the syllabus. It seems that these are more readily engaged by students. I will think on how i might draw from some of these learner-centered approaches to enhance the course schedules (seen as like Melissa, i am issued a standardized template for my syllabi).
I have tried to make my syllabi more student centered over the years. At the beginning of the semester, students have to post their questions and answers about the syllabus in a DB. I do not take part in that DB but I do modify the syllabus based on students’ feedback. Students help each other figuring out the different aspects of the course but I post an announcement if I see a question is not being answered.
Students also take a very low stake test about the syllabus, which I have also modified based on their answer. Because I teach asynchronous classes, it is very important for students to understand how the course is organized. I also try to address their concern regarding the format of the course but this is an area that I need to improve.
I include a rationale for course objectives and assignments. I explain that students will use various tools that address different learning styles. I also warn them of possible pitfalls.
I like the idea of a liquid syllabus. I would like to add introduction and course tour videos to my syllabus. My syllabus is currently on a Google doc which I constantly modify, but I would like to use a web designed format that is more interactive.
What is learner-focused about my current syllabus? I do use “we” instead of I when describing the skills we will work on in class. I also offer options for how they practice and show these skills.
What I don’t do and intend to add: A better description of why these skills will be useful beyond the class and a list of some learning strategies they could use throughout the class (maybe include links to articles/ sites that talk more about any of these strategies).
My existing syllabus is learning-focused by using inclusive wording that make students feel like we are a community. I think it can be much more learner-focused by explaining how it can help students be successful and what I will be able to do to support their learning. I’m fascinated by the cruelty-free syllabus that encourages students instead of penalizing them, and I evaluate my syllabus to see how bunny-friendly it is.
My courses are always learner-focused in that students choose which texts to write about which resonate with them, and they also are free to choose their research paper topic, etc.
After reviewing these materials I realize that I have a very content-based syllabus, that may turn students off. I also notice again and again, that although we go over the syllabus in class, many students do not know even the basic info that is contained in the syllabus. I imagine they may tune out the part where we go over the syllabus because they feel alienated by the dry, content-based nature of the syllabus. I already use a liquid form of giving out assignments, because the assignments are not in the syllabus, but in a course map posted on a Google Doc. on Blackboard. I have all the modules and assignments mapped out, but I put due dates on these assignments as we go. I also use cruelty-free components in my class, such as telling students that I understand that they have a life outside the course and to let me know if anything is going on so we can work together, but these policies are not mentioned in the syllabus. Moving forward, I am planning to include an explanation of why the assignment matters in the syllabus and I am planning to include the cruelty-free component as well.
What stood out during the reading was the policy around missing classes and assignments. Students who are absent for more than one class (in my experience) often feel like they need permission to come back to class. Creating a section that explicitly states the absence policy and the fact that things happen to ease that tension is a great approach.