I hate handing out written copies of course syllabi. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.
I didn’t always hate it. When I was a doctoral student I LOVED developing my course syllabus. When I was a beginning assistant professor I loved it.
I don’t know. I guess because it made me feel so college professor-y. I felt all official and real and legit.
But let’s be honest, traditional syllabi kinda suck. Here’s why:
Ok…this is pretty basic. I hate how often I lose the damn thing when it’s in paper form. Yeah, I know. You thought I was going to complain about how often students lost them, right? Well half the time I can’t find it. Or when I have time to work on my class I realize the hard copy is in my office and I am at home (or vice versa), and then I have to go hunt down where it’s saved at…and I’m lazy. Actually few students come to me about losing paper copies. They either aren’t losing them or they are handling the issue themselves. They appear to be doing a better job at it than me.
Paper copies come off as very stagnant, and I think they make knowledge appear very fixed and rigid. At the very least, the readings and course assignments appear very rigid. If I change something in a paper copy I have to email it and/or bring a new version to class OR hope students write it down in their version. What a pain.
But back to the rigid thing…..
What I like best about teaching is being able to be responsive to the students. I like the syllabi to have readings/assignments/policies/expectations. I’m not saying those things should go away. But I like to be able to play with the majority of those things after I have met the students and they have a sense of the course. I like for them to have input and shape the syllabus in a way that is relatively controlled.
For example, in my masters class this semester there are 1-2 students each week who are expected to locate additional resources that are connected to our topic and post them. I’m also always finding things and sticking them in. What is on our syllabus is constantly growing.
Another example….we change assignments if we feel like it. Everything on the syllabus is up for grabs for question/debate/change. While I do get the final word on something, there are few things I would likely be willing to fight for. This isn’t to suggest that my syllabus is of poor quality. It’s meant to suggest that students usually have ideas that enhance the course or flat out make it better all around. There are logistics to how you do this in a way that is respects the original content of the syllabus and doesn’t penalize students- that’s another post.
In The End….They’re Gone
When the semester is over, the semester is over. I do keep the old syllabus saved and on file to reference for future classes. I do use them when planning for the same course the next time it’s taught. But what do students do with them? I’m guessing they go into the garbage.
But what if they didn’t? What if we could find a way to make a syllabus a useful, breathing, livable document that could continue on after a course was over? What if we didn’t think about our course as being contained in a little box that was limited to 15 or so weeks? I’m not saying that the course itself continues on in the traditional sense long after grading has ended (or maybe it does) but rather the ideas and space to use course ideas/develop them/add to them continues to exist for both the students and the teacher.
I think it can happen. I think it’s totally possible, and I want to talk to you about how.