Survey Says: Consistency, Please!

Syllabus

Family Feud style game board with Consistency as the subject, and Syllabus as the first item on the board.

If there is a persistent challenge associated with teaching (online or face-to-face), it is getting students to read the syllabus. This challenge is so ever-present that one faculty member commissioned a short video from a famous rapper in an attempt to get students to read their syllabus!

In some cases, the syllabus may be the first meaningful way that students engage with your course and you, their instructor. The syllabus informs students of what is expected of them, how they will be graded, how they can contact you, and your teaching philosophy (Hess & Whittington, 2003). Bain (2004), asserted that “the syllabus is the optimal moment for faculty to set a tone that promotes deeper learning, enthusiasm, and intrinsic motivation.”

Regardless of your syllabus’s design, format, or tone, one of its key functions is communication (Thompson (2007). It can serve as a vehicle to provide information to your students on an ongoing basis, whether it is regularly updated or simply referred to throughout your course. However, none of this matters if students cannot locate your syllabus.

Students at Wake Forest report that being able to easily access the syllabus and refer to it often is important to them. Here are some examples of their feedback:

“…using the Syllabus option to actually display the syllabus…would be really helpful.”

Syllabi were located in many different places (rarely under the Syllabus tab).

With Canvas, providing your students with your syllabus in a location where they can easily access it is simple. Make sure that you have enabled the “Syllabus” function in your settings so that the Syllabus link appears in the course navigation menu. You can then copy and paste your syllabus onto the page or embed the document for students to view. In addition, the Syllabus tool is the only place in Canvas where students can see a list of all “due” items specifically for that course.

Screenshot of the Syllabus tool page with a link to a syllabus document and the Course Summary to-do item list below.

You can also consider creating a visual syllabus to improve engagement and retention (Yarosh, 2021). Regardless of your format, using the Syllabus tab consistently means fewer questions from students who cannot locate it.

The Bottom Line

The course syllabus is a critical document that you have likely spent significant time creating and revising, that sets the tone for your course, and provides clarity of expectations for your students. Put this foundational resource in a place where students can access it easily and consistently throughout the semester.

Sources

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press.

Hess, J.,Whittington, M. (2003), Developing an effective course syllabus, NACTA Journal; Sep 2003; 47:3.

Thompson, B. (2007) The Syllabus as a Communication Document: Constructing and Presenting the Syllabus, Communication Education, 56:1, 54-71, DOI: 10.1080/03634520601011575

Yarosh, J. (2021) The Syllabus Reconstructed: An Analysis of Traditional and Visual Syllabi for Information Retention and Inclusiveness, Teaching Sociology, 49(2) 173–183, DOI: 10.1177/0092055X21996784

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