Sunday, August 23, 2009

designing a syllabus (steps 6-9) - abridged

alas, my ambitious 9-part how to design a syllabus is not going to be completed ... this semester. with luck, i'll return to it next semester. or maybe i'll do it every semester until i get it right. but, for now, with classes starting tuesday, family in town, and spending the last splinters of summer celebrating siena's six-week old milestone, it's just not gonna happen.

but for those curious, here's steps 6-9, abridged!

step 6: grades! too many students obsess over them, nearly all professors hate them, and most classes seem to need them.

step 7: rules! i've seen syllabi with pages of rules, i've seen (and designed) syllabi with a few sentences of rules. my rule of thumb on rules: class rules should be brief enough to fill a tweet. if a rule can't be explained in 140 characters or less, pare it down to make it more digestible.

step 8: course description! now that you've done it all - basic info, course calendar, learning goals, course readings, assignments, grades, and rules - you are finally in a position to actually know what your course is all about. in a concise paragraph, describe your course, paying special attention to be clear, and stick it on the top (directly after "basic info") of your syllabus. you are now nearly finished with your syllabus. congratulations!

step 9: give it away! why hoard a syllabus? why keep it on your computer desktop or walled behind blackboard? make your syllabus public and accessible for free - give it away. let other people - professors, students, graduate students - access it, use it, tweak it. if you think your syllabus is good, give it away so that other professors and teachers can make their courses that much better. if you think your syllabus isn't so good, give it away so that other professors and teachers and students can offer you feedback on it. just give it away.


with luck, one day i'll return to this exercise, maybe recruit others to help me, and try to draft an extensive 9-part series on how to design a syllabus. but for now, with summer beginning to set and with my own syllabus screaming for attention, i'll have to let it go, put it to a temporary rest, and give it away.

1 comment:

Paris said...

Thnaks, David, we'll anticipate the remainder in a few months.

Here's my favorite rule:

"Occasional whispered conversations with classmates is permitted, though never when other students are speaking."

As I explain/gloss this in class, I remind them that it is absurd and inhuman to expect them to actually listen to me for the length of the class, especially given that much of what I say is entirely incomprehensible. Then I ask, "so what can you whisper about?" They reply, "the books we are reading?" "No! It can be anything. What'd you have for dinner? How was that movie? Did you do it? What's your favorite color? That's why it is a whispered conversation. You just have to be able to pay enough attention to the envirnment so that if one of your classmates begins to talk... it stops. Immediately. Absolutely. And you give them your complete attention."

I'd like to discuss rules about text messaging, too, but perhaps we'll have to save that for another time.