As the spring semester is rolling around, and it is time for me to write up my class syllabi, I am reminded of a few tips my pedagogy professors gave me during my graduate studies.
1. Accurate and updated or general, no in-betweens
I remember in college receiving more than one syllabus that looked like it had been recycled from the time that my father had been going to college. Working in music and new media technology, I used to laugh at the outdated software mentioned, outdated media storage (like saving assignments on floppies) or the “necessary” skills no one used anymore. It is better just to write up an accurate and updated syllabus each year.
If you plan on recycling your syllabus from year to year, avoid mentioning specifics that can easily be outdated within a year or two. This can include computer type, software, specific research theories, or historical events that can change. Now if you are teaching the literature, language, math, or other subjects that change little from year to year, then you can probably work with the same syllabus for a decade, adding in updated information in-class instead of in writing.
2. Save your file.
Save the original file in a generic file type (like .doc or .rtf) that can easily be transferred between computer platforms and software. Many times, there only existed a hard copy of the file somewhere in the offices filing cabinets in B.F.E. An easy way to keep it in storage is to e-mail the computer file to yourself and save it under a specific folder in your e-mail account. This way, you can access it easily wherever your office is located this year.
3. Give yourself flexibility.
Be sure to give yourself some leg room in your syllabus. I have a tendency to be too specific. After you write your syllabus, see if you have been too specific. An example? “Grading will be based on 13 assignments on the love life of frogs, each worth 174.5 points each”. Instead you can write “Grading will be based on 10-15 assignments based on material discussed in class on amphibians, worth 100-200 points each”. Then you can announce in class the overall points worth and the specifics of each assignment. You can still have your 13 quizzes, but now you have room for that extra quiz about geckos, or you can take away a few quizzes if your mother comes into town and you are too frazzled to grade anything.
4. List everything a student will need.
This is your office location, office hours, e-mail, alternate e-mails, resources, lab numbers, textbooks, online resources, your name, the time, and location of the class. Although most universities require this information, this is especially useful for those students who show up the first day of class and think they are sitting in an easy one-credit general nutrition lecture class until they see the syllabus for an advanced three credit anatomy and physiology course.
5. Be specific about your attendance, grading, and academic honesty policy.
This is especially useful at the end of the semester when the student who missed over half of the classes shows up demanding an A. By being specific at the outset, you have a recourse to follow your policy to the letter or to be flexible in cases of illness, etc. Case in point? I took a college math course taught by a graduate student. She said at the outset that she would never take attendance. Needless to say, she never had more than 25% of the class in attendance, although at least 80% of the class passed with A’s and B’s, but that was her policy, no matter how frustrated she became as she taught a nearly empty classroom day after day.