Monday, July 25, 2005

No Paper Syllabi

Our listserv has been abuzz with discussion about the new order from the Dean that we are no longer to give out paper syllabi in our classes.

Instead, we are supposed to post the information on D2L and e-mail the students to inform them of the location.

This is done in the name of cost-savings, as the College will no longer have to bear the expense of producing these documents.

There are too many comments for me to republish here, but suffice it to say there has been prolonged discussion. I count about 27 postings related to the topic.

Most are concerned that not having paper copies of the syllabus causes 2 major problems. First, the syllabus can be seen as something close to a contract between the instructor and the student. Without a paper copy, it leaves this contract more open to misinterpretation and allows students to claim that they never knew.

Second, it disrupts the beginning of class. On that first day, not all students will have checked their e-mail or perused the electronic syllabus. The possibility exists that there will be continuing confusion as students join the class and discover the syllabus after that initial class period.

I sympathize with both these concerns. I think that having paper copies of the syllaubs placed in students hands lets them concretely visualize the requirements and expectations for the course. I also often include handouts that will be used later in the semester in with the syllabus. Directing students back to the website is not nearly as efficient use of my time as waving the paper they all have in front of them.

It also seems likely that the expense of syllabus printing will simply be shifted from our budget to the more expensive laser writers in the library and computer clusters. I suppose this was the goal of the Dean, but it doesn't really help the overall budget of our institution.

I am generally a believer in technology in the classroom, but decisions made for economic and not pedagogical reasons seem suspect to me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments on this new policy. It seems to me that telling instructors to not provide copies of the syllabus interferes with our ability to make the best choice for our classes and our students' learning. I plan to pay for my own copies so that students can receive a copy of this important document. But many students would likely expect the cost of a paper syllabuls to be covered by their tuition payment.

If the syllabus is only available electronically then students will not have documented expectations until they visit the web page and then print it out. Of course they may not do this in a timely fashion. My additional concern is that this file can easily be altered, especially if it is posted in MS Word format. Providing hard copies is more secure in preserving the integrity of the syllabus.

Some have suggested we go over the syllabus without providing copies. Presenting the syllabus on an overhead is not the same as going over a copy of it. I've tried using overheads in the past and believe it is less effective for me. Nearly all of my student's know where to find detailed information about the course after we go over it on the first day. I put a lot of work into my syllabus and believe it is my first opportunity to make a good impression on my students.