Read The Syllabus

Q: What's the most important thing to do on the first day of class?

A: Go to class. (Why, what was your answer?)

The other important thing to do is: Read the syllabus. The syllabus (from Latin, meaning "list") or course outline is my blueprint for the entire course. I spend hours writing each syllabus, making very careful choices in what I include--and what I leave out. I try to keep it short, fitting it to one sheet of paper whenever possible. That's not easy to do without going to a 6-point font. So it's really discouraging for me to have someone ask for information that's in the syllabus.

Here are The Top 10 Questions That Are Answered By The Syllabus:

1. Is this class graded on a curve?
2. Is there a textbook for this course?
3. Is there anything specific we're supposed to be reading?
4. When is the midterm?
5. What chapters are on the midterm?
6. When are your office hours?
7. Where's your office?
8. Do I need a prereq for this course?
9. What if I miss a midterm?
10. Is the final cumulative?
I'm not going to say that these are stupid questions. ("Rrrd. Fffa. Ffllabfff." I'm biting my lip really hard right now.) But if you find yourself asking one of these questions, I hope you feel awfully sheepish when I tell you, "It's on the syllabus." I mean, if you can't bring yourself to read and remember what's on the syllabus, how are you going to do on the exams?

OK, so my metaphor for the syllabus is a blueprint. The UofA, on the other hand, views it more as a contract between instructor and student. There's a lot of "Calendar" this and "Code of Student" that. It really is important for you to know what your rights are, otherwise, you're probably going to forfeit them. (When, for example, is the deadline for disputing marks on a midterm or other term assignment? Read the syllabus.)

Interestingly, university administration is thinking about cutting funds for printing hardcopies of syllabi to save money. I find that it's hard enough to get some students to read a piece of paper that been put directly into their hands--what if it's now just some e-document online somewhere? Honestly, I think I'd be willing to spend my own money to copy the syllabus and hand it out in class, if it comes to that.

What do you think? Does it matter to you if you get a hardcopy syllabus or not? Post your opinion in the comments below.

Why aren't you studying?

Update 1/4/2010: Just got the memo (which was supposed to be sent out last month) in my email: the Dean (of Arts, apparently) is "strongly encouraging" us to go with e-syllabi.

Update 5/10/2013: Great comic by PhD Comics: "It's in the syllabus."

What format do you prefer for the syllabus? (Please vote only once.)


Anastasia said...

I think the students that usually read the hard copy will read the e-copy and the ones that don't bother reading the hard copy won't read the e-copy either.

I like having a hard copy but it wouldn't matter to me, if it was only available online I'd print myself a copy.

Anonymous said...

I personally like getting a hard copy. It drives me nuts when we aren't given one in class (even more when there isn't one period). It makes me feel like they can change something (not that they would, but as far as how we are graded it's nice to have it right there). Also, I figure if I'm paying $6000 a year to attend university the least they could do is give me a hard copy of the syllabus. That being said, professors shouldn't have to pay to give their students a hard copy of a "contract." Could you imagine if your contract for buying a car dealer or a house was only online and you had to pay extra for a hard copy?

Nadia said...

I like getting the hard copy of the syllabus in class. For a lot of classes, the prof's website is password protected or students don't know where to find it, and thus can't print of a syllabus before class.

I find it VERY helpful to annotate the syllabus with comments the prof makes as he/she is going over the syllabus in the first class.
If I know the class website (and necessary password/login info) in advance, I will save an e-copy of the syllabus myself.

Anonymous said...

I also like to have a hard copy. I add my notes to it when/if the prof goes over it and then it lives in my bag for the whole term. The most useful part of it for me is simply having the dates right there, in front of me, hard copy. That way if I have a panic moment where I think something is due - I can check the syllabus and reassure myself that it's all in my head.

Anonymous said...

I do not care whether or not I get the syllabus in hard copy or e-copy simply because my favorite activity is asking professors when my midterms are; why must you deprive me of my favorite activity?

Speaking of when midterms are, when is the midterm for your Perception class?

In all seriousness, I no longer have a preference for either hard copy or e-copy of a syllabus. I used to prefer hard copies, but I got used to checking e-copies.

P.S. I don't really need a response as to when the midterm is for your Advanced Perception class. No, I think I will email you instead...

P.P.S If somebody actually sends you an email asking you when the midterm is, it wasn't me. No, seriously. I know I'm "Anonymous" and all, but I'm not even in your perception class.

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