Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

Syllabus: Your Contract

As I thought about it, there is so much to talk about with teaching. Off the top of my head, I came up with over 10 topics in less than 10 minutes. So, where do we start? Let’s start at the beginning. What do you do on Day 1? Well, the first thing is to go through the syllabus. Many people simply pass out the syllabus and tell the students they can read it. That is because they do not see the potential of the syllabus. Your syllabus is your contract with your students about the policies of the class. It is where you set the expectations for the students, the standards and policies for the course. This is the written agreement about how the class will be conducted, so make sure all the important information is in the syllabus and you should go through the contract with your students on the first day. Once you go through the contract, I remind them that this is our binding contract. I tell them that we can make changes, but we should do it now. I ask if anyone wants to make changes, and we vote on approval of the syllabus. In my experience, students are generally happy with the syllabus and do not request changes. Mostly, I think they are so shocked that a professor takes this approach, that they sit in stunned silence.

Some of the essential items I put in my syllabus include:

  1. Contact information. For yourself and the TA
  2. Textbook and curriculum information. What will be covered in the class?
  3. Pedagogy information. How are you going to teach the course? Making it clear how you are going to the teach the class will help to orient the students as to how the class will proceed. This is especially important if you are going to use modern pedagogical techniques, because students might be used to lecture style from your colleagues. It is also essential that you tell the students that the method you are choosing is what you think is best, because your biggest concern is if they learn the concepts.
  4. Homework policy. You need to tell the students how many homework sets you will have and when they are due. Is it online homework or long answer? Who will grade it? How much will it count for the final grade? What is your late homework policy? Will you accept late homework at all? Will you allow it to be one day late?
  5. Exam policy. How many exams will you have? When will the exams be? And what will they cover, exactly? Have the exams scheduled with the dates on the syllabus, so everyone can mark their calendars (make sure you have a room scheduled, if you do evening exams). How many points are they worth? And how much of the final grade? WHat is the format? Multiple choice? Conceptual? Long answer? How will you do make-up exams? Will you allow people to take the exam late? Or will you only allow early exams if there is a time conflict?
  6. Other grade issues. If you require participation or clicker grades, you need to specifically outline what will be grading, and how much of their final grade depends on it. If you are doing extra credit, say for attendance or clicker questions, make sure it is clear on the syllabus. I also usually outline how the points total to make the points for the class as a chart using either total point (say 1000 points total) or percentages.
  7. Class expectations. How do you expect your class to act? Do you expect them to engage and not sit like lumps? You can positively reinforce that with credit points for participation, but you should also say you expect it. Do you expect them to be respectful of you and the other students’ ideas. You need to specify other specific things such as if you allow computers in the room (presuming you aren’t using a team-based learning room that are built around computers). Do you expect students to work together on homework or independently?
  8. University policies on ethics. At the end, I always list the University’s ethical policy about plagiarism or anything else.

I am sure there are other items that belong on the syllabus, that I don’t include, so please comment and guest post.What do you include in your syllabus?

Comments on: "Syllabus: Your Contract" (1)

  1. […] Syllabus. Your syllabus is your contract with the class. I have a post about your syllabus (here). I stand by what I said here, but I want to make something else very clear: You should make […]

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