Does it seem like your students never bother reading the syllabus? A quick Google-image search of “it’s in the syllabus” will reveal countless cartoons-some humorous and some not so humorous-suggesting that students insufficiently paying attention to the syllabus is common place across academia. I really DO want my students to read, understand, and internalize my syllabus, so what is going on here and, most importantly, what can I do about it?
Are students really reading your syllabus? On one hand, it is possible that students are carefully reading your syllabus; however, perhaps your carefully designed program of study or thoughtfully constructed course policies are simply lost in the sea of first-day-of-class information students are receiving from your class and their other four classes on the same day. The result being that it seems as if students are not reading your syllabus when they actually are; but in sipping from the information fire hose, your crucial information is understandably lost.
On the other hand, it is possible that your students are not bothering to read your syllabus at all. Perhaps students have learned through experience that syllabus information on average of all their classes is really is not that important and that professors will make emphatic note during class of important dates and policies as they apply over time. The result being that students really do not need to allocate mental energy to ingesting a class syllabus.
Either way, I’ve got a problem. There really are important policies in my syllabus I want students to read. And perhaps more importantly, I have spent a considerable amount of time designing a detailed pathway for success for my students to follow.
Enter the SYLLABUS QUIZ. I assign an open-book quiz on the critical content of my syllabus that students are required to take-and counts toward their overall course grade-ten days after my class starts. The primary and most obvious advantage of using a Syllabus Quiz is that students have a graded-task that engages them in understanding my course policies and procedures. Frequently found Syllabus Quiz questions might be:
- What is the course attendance policy?
- What should students be doing during class time?
- What is the fastest way to get a hold of me?
- Which is most influential assignment or test that influences a course grade?
- If students have a family emergency requiring them to leave campus, what should they do?
- When are homework assignments due and how are assignments submitted?
- How often do I need to post in the online discussion group?
- What will the course textbook be used for and is it required?
Moreover, there are nuanced advantages to using a Syllabus Quiz. Among them is that students get to have some experience with the testing format I use. I happen to employ a computer-based testing system for all my tests, and having students take the Syllabus Quiz online gets them acquainted with the online system before they take their first content test in that potentially foreign environment. If I didn’t use the online system, but used Scantron-style bubble sheets instead, then that is the format I would use for the Syllabus Quiz. Same thing if I used essay exams: My Syllabus Quiz would be essay style.
Probably the biggest advantage is that I get to emphasize to my students which parts of my course policies and learning plan I have designed for them is most important. This is far more valuable to me than having a documented record that my students knew my official policies in case of a grievance. I really do want my students to know that I have constructed a pathway to master the concepts in my class, and the Syllabus Quiz is but one tool I have in my arsenal to help them succeed.
Tim Slater, University of Wyoming, Tim@CAPERteam.com