student at white board July 29

A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning

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At its most basic level, the syllabus is used to communicate information about the course, the instructor, learning objectives, assignments, grading policies, due dates, the university’s academic integrity statement, and, in some cases, an increasingly long list of strongly worded admonitions on what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the college classroom.


Professor smiling in class June 19

Tonic for the Boring Syllabus

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It had happened before, sitting at the computer, working on a syllabus, again, fluctuating between excitement about a new course and a vague sense that life itself was being sucked out of me one sterile byte at a time. I was fighting boredom. And this was supposed to interest students? I tried to imagine it igniting their curiosity, but instead I saw them staring at it with the enthusiasm saved for the fine print on a life insurance policy. But they must read it. It is their life insurance policy for a future full of knowledge and wisdom! It defines how we’re going to relate! As I sat there writing my syllabus I had a vision of the Ferris Bueller video of the professor droning on and on while asking for input: “Anyone? Anyone?” That was not where I wanted to go. I had to stop and rethink what I was doing.




26255465_web January 30, 2014

Good Teaching as Vulnerable Teaching

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I was recently asked by a friend and colleague to review her syllabus. She wanted to make sure she had enough policies to address all the classroom issues that now emerge. Policies regarding plagiarism, class cancellation procedures, references to various official university handbook codes, and even mandated contingencies for an H1N1 virus outbreak were dutifully laid out. Indeed, the syllabus, despite some mention of the course itself, read far more like a legal document than an introduction and a guide to a classroom experience.



ff-tp-blog October 2, 2013

An Intriguing Participation Policy

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I was looking at participation policies in a collection of syllabi this week. I wouldn’t give most of them high marks—lots of vague descriptions that don’t functionally define participation and then prescribe instructor assessment at the end of course with little or no mention of criteria. But I’ve voiced my concerns about participation policies previously, so I won’t do again here. Instead, what I would like to share with you is a policy that’s impressive in its specificity and in the intriguing idea it contains.



ff-icon-default-200x200 May 31, 2013

Advice for New Faculty: Start with the Syllabus

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The ability to teach is not something that one either has or does not have. Teachers are not born. Rather, they are made, through hard work, research, continual learning, and practice. Any teacher, no matter how experienced or new, can improve, and even the best teacher’s skills can degrade if he or she does not pay attention to continual improvement. Teachers are made through hard work and persistence.


26256041_web April 15, 2013

Cell Phones in the Classroom: What’s Your Policy?

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Are we old fuddy-duddies when we ask (demand) students to put away their cell phones in the classroom or clinical areas? Students tell me this is just the way it is now, but I disagree. I teach courses in health sciences. Students practice in the hospitals, interacting with and caring for real patients. My colleagues and I have found students with their phones in their pockets, in their socks, and in their waist bands in order to have access to their precious smart phones but still hide them from instructors. We have found students sitting on stools texting while the hospital preceptors did the work. Some students are one phone call or text away from dismissal from the program before they stop using cell phones in classroom or clinical setting. What is the answer to this problem? Are faculty members being too demanding by placing cell phone restrictions in syllabi or clinical handbooks?