Great Expectations

23 Aug

Or, What makes a syllabus clearer? What do you expect – and therefore recommend – as habits of learning?

A tip stemming from an email note from Dr. Linnea Stenson
Assoc Vice President and Dean, Minneapolis Community and Technical College
University of Minnesota alum as graduate student and lecturer, ongoing mentor

“Okay, one quick thing for the moment ’cause I’m thinking about it: clear syllabi.”

“Along with that (in that document) one thing I always like to see are clear expectations laid out for students in terms of whatever it is you expect from them – AND here’s the piece I really like to see: lay out what students can expect from YOU as their teacher.”

Both of these ask for clarity – about the course and how its players will in the dynamic as learners and teachers.  And we’ll offer here two resources “you can use tomorrow” (or tonight), one related to each of Dr. Stenson’s points:

Four Questions to Pose to Your Syllabus – see the document for the guidance of some quite useful context and fine-turning questions:

  1. Do the title and preamble [description + core learning outcomes] clearly state what the course is about, orient and excite students?
  2. Does your syllabus establish clearly the expectations you have regarding student engagement, learning practices and interpersonal conduct?  set out what your students can expect regarding your teaching practices, resources for supporting learning, and student-teacher as well as student-student interactions?
  3. Is your syllabus coherent? In the simplest sense a syllabus is a “calendar,” but it should also have a logic, an order of argument, or a story line.
  4. Does your syllabus build the appropriate skills or competencies? Does it clearly motivate stages of learning or have learning outcomes?

Expectations – One of the top ranking sections of the University’s online Syllabus Tutorial, the subheadings address – and provide specific examples from University of Minnesota syllabi – the following topics.

  1. Teaching Methods
  2. Student Roles
  3. Class Atmosphere
  4. Special Procedures – such as Unfamiliar Teaching Strategies
  5. Additional Examples – such as
    A description of the service learning component of the course
    A clear statement regarding the workload for the class
    A rationale for the importance of participation/calling on non-volunteers
    Descriptions of the teaching techniques and a detailed outline of how class time will be spent during a typical week
    “Rules for the Road” – A list of 10 rules which govern operation of the class; rules which parallel the demands of profession

For this blog post, we’ve added a few specifics beyond the listserv’s short version Teaching Tip.  And, as always – use the blog comment area to share your ideas and questions.


4 Responses to “Great Expectations”

  1. Cristina Costa 23 August 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Great piece. I really like the reciprocity in terms of expectations. I think that’s a very clever way to start the ‘dialog’.

    This also reminded me of the need of establishing the ‘rules of engagement’ ( online we would call it netiquette) as well as a kind of ‘policy of participation’ as to get that so needed culture of sharing started. 😉 Again – this need to come from both sides of the fence…so there is no fence, if that makes any sense. 🙂

    ‘The Rules of Engagement : Socializing College Students for the New Century’:

  2. IleneDawn 24 August 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Really like that the piece you reference, Cristina, brings Academic Integrity and Academic Community into the dynamic of interactions. Thinking about that aspect of engagement and expectations suits courses for first year undergrads and now editing my dissertation doctoral folks.

  3. Kim Wilcox 26 August 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    Here is another blog post on the syllabus, from Inside Higher Ed:

  4. UMinnTeachLearn 26 August 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Love the Inside HEd piece, Kim, in the ways it push that Terms of Service thinking. Examples of building a syllabus as road map and organizational tool live at

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