6 Roles for the Syllabus

"Syllabus - That thing that guides you through this course."


A. "What Role Does Your Syllabus Play?" (post) outlines 6 roles a syllabus can play in a course.

  • "The syllabus doesn’t have to be all of these things. It can serve few or many functions."
  • "What role does this all-important teaching artifact play in your courses?"
  • "[H]ere’s an attempt to broaden our thinking."

B. "Different Roles of a Syllabus"

1. "A map ... lay[ing] out the countryside of the course and its content" 

  • "A good syllabus tells students (those who pay attention) where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they’re headed." 

2. An invitation ... to a learning event" 

  • "There will be great food and lots of it—that’s the course content—stimulating conversation, laughter, learning, and lots of preparing for professional life ahead."
  • "Those invited should plan to stay for the whole event. No ducking out early."

3. A contract ... describ[ing] a relationship with obligations."

  • "It spells out what students must do and not do, hopefully with more emphasis on the dos than the don’ts ... [and] includes at least a bit of the rationale behind what it obligates students to deliver."
  • "Contracts specify what both parties in the relationship will provide.  A good syllabus lays out what the teacher will and won’t do as well." 

4. A puzzle, partly assembled guides that "students as they work to complete the puzzle."

  • "Every course has lots pieces ... chunks, modules, and units ... readings ... assignments ... content, exams, and assignments ... rules, policies, and prohibitions."
  • "Where do these pieces fit in the puzzle? Why are there so many?"
  • "The syllabus empties the puzzle box, does the initial sorting to locate the edges, and starts putting some of the big pieces together."

5. A sneak peek ... introduc[ing] the course and the person teaching it."

  • "What’s the course about? Does the content look interesting? Is it relevant now or only in the future?"
  • "Does the teacher seem friendly and approachable? Does it sound like she wants to teach this course?"
  • "What does he think about students? Does he trust them, like them, and want them to do well?"
  • "Students read between the lines and form first impressions."

6. An owner’s manual ... shows how the course operates."

  • "It ... makes clear that there are ways to run the course that will cause it to break down, sometimes beyond repair."
  • "There’s a trouble-shooting guide that offers suggestions for what to do when the course isn’t running smoothly."
  • "It will identify what may be causing the problem and how it might be fixed."

Weimaer, Maryellen. "What Role Should Your Syllabus Play?" The Teaching Professor 11 March 2019.

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