The syllabus is a student’s tool for navigating their way through the course requirements. It’s meant to be read, absorbed and referred to. However, many students approach it as an extraneous piece of litter that gets shoved away somewhere and never to be used again.
A syllabus is prepared as a means of describing the course, stating its purpose and projecting its outcomes. It will reveal the text being used and all necessary supplemental materials such as course packets with other articles and documents copied by the professor. The syllabus contains the timeline for all readings, assignments, projects and papers.
Other details of a course syllabus include the professor’s name (students do forget), names of teaching assistants, contact information and office hours. Further it will break down the grading structure alerting students as to how each assignment will be graded as well as any penalties for absences or missing assignments. It’s becoming typical that the syllabus will also contain any institutional policies regarding cheating and plagiarism.
In other words, the course syllabus is considered the bible (small ‘b’) of the course. It has been meticulously prepared with great thought and consideration as to precisely what a student needs in order to be successful. Therefore it should not be dismissed, disposed of or dispatched to the circular file.
About the time just following mid term exams students suddenly begin to get worried about their progress. All at once they have lots of questions to ask their professor or their teaching assistants such as, “When is _____ (fill in the blank) due?” “I didn’t know we had to do this; is there extra credit?” The answer to these questions is often “All that information is in your syllabus,” which elicits a response of “I can’t find my syllabus.”
Fortunately, in some cases, there is often another option for the information in the syllabus. Blackboard or D2L (Desire To Learn) are ways for the syllabus to be placed online if this is a preferred method of accessing the information. Unfortunately, many students miss the information regarding the online source because it was stated in the original paper syllabus, which they have misplaced.
A professor will usually take the first day of class to distribute the syllabus. She may wait until the next class period to go through the syllabus point by point. This isn’t the most exciting class to sit through but it’s obviously very important. This is a time when students can ask questions if they don’t understand what’s on the syllabus. If a student is text messaging or buried in his or her laptop, under the guise of taking notes, they will miss the opportunity to clarify what can sometimes be an overwhelming amount of information.
Everyone knows the first days of a semester are about syllabi. If you are taking three or more classes it’s quite a juggling act to keep everything straight. Nonetheless, the syllabus is the best means to date for revealing up front exactly what is expected in any course. It’s often best to take the syllabus and transfer its information to a source that works best for the student, like a calendar, in whatever form that takes. This way, if paper is your nemesis, you haven’t missed the information. However, even in cases where the information is transferred there may be details that were missed. Hang on to that valuable document that is the syllabus and refer to it first whenever you have a question regarding your course work.