Some years back The Teaching Professor featured an article highlighting Mano Singham’s wonderful piece describing how he moved away from a very authoritarian, rule-centered syllabus (reference below). It’s one of my very favorite articles—I reference it regularly in presentations, and it appears on almost every bibliography I distribute.
Since its publication in 2005, Singham has continued to explore the role of the syllabus in his courses (and elsewhere) and has become even more convinced that many faculty are using the syllabus in ways that more effectively hinder than promote learning.
In a presentation at an International Society for Exploring Teaching and Learning (ISETL) conference, Singham described an activity he now undertakes on the first day of class. Instead of distributing the syllabus then, he passes out a list of readings, a tentative schedule for the readings and a proposed list of paper due dates. Then he asks students this question: “What do you expect from an instructor who is giving 100% to the course?”
Here’s the list students came up the first time he tried this approach:
- Give students their papers back in a timely way
- Give students lots of criticism and feedback on their work
- Have passion for the material
- Listen and respond to student concerns
- Care not only about academics but also about students as people
- Realize that students have a life outside of class and not make unreasonable demands on them
- Not stick only to the class readings for discussion
- Take all questions seriously and not fake answers
- Provide inspiration to students so that they will want to change their minds
He followed that question with this one: “What would you expect to see your peers doing if they were giving 100% to the course?” And here’s that list:
- Doing the readings
- Listening to others and appreciating diverse opinions
- Learning from each other’s ideas
- Keeping things lighthearted
- Not putting down others if you disagree
- Showing up for every class and being on time
- Showing respect for everyone’s ideas
- Going beyond just academic conversation, bringing personal elements into the discussions too
Singham added three items to the students’ second list: responding thoughtfully to weekly journal prompts; being conscientious about sending weekly private emails to the instructor; and regularly checking the course website for information about the course. The activity confirmed for Singham that students do know what’s expected of them and have a good sense of what professors can do to support their efforts to learn in a course.
References: Singham, M. (2005). Moving away from the authoritarian classroom. Change, 37 (3), 51-57.
Excerpted from Expectations: Students Stepping Up, December 2008, The Teaching Professor.