SA Senate wants to develop online syllabi database

Members of the Student Association want to make a syllabi file available online for all undergraduate and graduate courses in time for the start of the fall 2007 semester to aid students in course selection.

During the last SA Senate meeting earlier this month, the Senate passed a resolution calling for a database of online syllabi which would include a “brief course description, objectives, test schedule and the requirements of individual professors,” according to the document.

The resolution will be brought before the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students in the Faculty Senate and Donald Lehman, executive vice president of academic affairs. Only once the resolution receives approval from the Faculty Senate and Lehman can online syllabi become a reality.

Sen. Omar Woodard (CCAS-G), who sponsored the resolution, said online syllabi would help students make informed decisions about course selection and would lower the add and drop rate of courses.

“It is good for students and faculty,” said Woodard, a graduate student. “It helps add to the higher academic expectations for students.”

John Artz, chair of the JCFS and an associate professor of Information Systems and Technology Management, said there are “benefits and drawbacks” to the resolution.

“I don’t have a problem with it in principle. However, in practice it is unrealistic,” Artz said. “Having up-to-date syllabi posted online would require a lot more that just a resolution.”

Lehman said that the SA resolution is a “reasonable request,” but was unsure of the logistics of online syllabi availability for all courses.

“The key to success is to find a method of implementation that is cost effective and respectful to departmental work loads,” Lehman said.

Lehman added that syllabi have been made available online at other universities.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology initiated a program in 2005 to post course material online, including syllabi, for all courses offered at the university.

Woodard said that the online syllabi resolution was a realistic initiative and could be done using preexisting platforms.

“Most of our classes use Blackboard and typically syllabi are posted online,” Woodard said.

“We already have the existing capacity to store syllabi online … It is about converting how we do it.”

Woodard added that the University could follow the model for online syllabi created by the Graduate School of Political Management, which posts syllabi to all of its courses on its Web site.

“Each department has its own Web site, why not post syllabi on their Web sites?” Woodard said. “It is not hard.”

Professors have indicated that making syllabi that are accurate and current online would be difficult since courses are constantly changing and evolving.

“It is not feasible to expect even a rough draft syllabus for a course at the time of registration for (the following) semester,” said Stephen Forssell, a psychology visiting assistant professor. “It’s like asking Dave Matthews to e-mail you his set list for the concert you will be attending before tour rehearsals begin. It doesn’t work that way.”

Woodard said that making sure that syllabi are 100 percent up-to-date is the “least of his worries.”

“Students should know this is a sample,” Woodard said. “No way is this the exact syllabus for the class. Our biggest obstacle will be to work through Blackboard or the department Web sites to get the syllabi online.”

During his SA presidency two years ago, Woodard made syllabi availability one of his main goals and made syllabi available through the SA office.

“We had an amazing response from departments,” Woodard said. “It was a great success.”

Administrators and members of the SA will begin meeting at the beginning of the spring 2007 semester to discuss the SA’s resolution.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.