Syllabus Development: Set and Clarify Great Expectations

12 Aug

**For our final summer (re)posting, this look at syllabus development from August 2011, the blog’s first month.  Look for the new academic year’s postings to begin next week.**

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

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

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.  The subheading hyperlinks will take you directly to resources where you can learn more.

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 – This is one of the most consulted/clicked sections of the University’s online Syllabus Self-Paced Tutorial; the topics explored – and illustrated with specific examples from University of Minnesota syllabi – include:

  1. Teaching Methods
  2. Student Roles
  3. Class Atmosphere
  4. Special Procedures – related teaching & learning practices
  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
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