New course syllabus bank could boost accountability, faculty say

Media Credit: File Photo by Max Wang | Staff Photographer

Faculty said the new course syllabus bank, which was introduced last week, could help students choose classes and hold professors more accountable for completing the tasks outlined in their syllabi.

After officials introduced a new syllabus bank last week, faculty said giving more information about their classes could push students and faculty toward academic success.

The update to the Blackboard course syllabus bank will automatically upload syllabi to a central location on the website when professors upload them to their individual course pages. Faculty said adding syllabi – a long-overdue move – could help students choose classes and hold professors more accountable for completing the tasks outlined in their syllabi.

There were just more than 100 syllabi in total uploaded to Blackboard in spring 2018, compared to the more than 4,000 courses offered this semester.

Gastón de los Reyes, an assistant professor of strategic management and public policy, said because it takes additional effort for professors to opt out of including their syllabi in the bank in the new system, participation in the syllabus bank will increase.

Ultimately, the move is a positive step toward transparency with students, enabling them to make the best choices for their education, he said.

“I think as far as what the administration can do, it’s a good step,” he said. “I don’t think it should be controversial. I think that students have very strong incentives to make sure they are choosing their courses well.”

Reyes added that the University is behind its peers and should have been providing this syllabus information to students a long time ago.

“It’s an embarrassing thing that we can’t get syllabi available to students until now,” he said. “We are talking about a school that is an outlier.”

Despite taking years for the policy to come to fruition, the University has taken steps to improve course syllabi by requiring professors to list the minimum hours students are expected to spend on the course outside the classroom. Student Association leaders said they wanted to increase participation in the course syllabus bank after participation dropped off in recent years.

Sherry Molock, a professor of psychology, said more syllabi will help students more effectively choose classes because they can factor time requirements and the difficulty of the course into their decisions. But Molock said her syllabus is a “living document” that will change based on the way her course is running, which may be a drawback for students.

“I may omit assignments or modify them if I think students aren’t learning certain concepts or if the assignment isn’t the best way to assess their learning,” she said.

David McAleavey, a professor of English, said giving students more syllabi to look at would help them choose the best classes, but likely only the most motivated would take the time to sort through the hundreds of syllabi. But he added that having more syllabi available can make the quality of classes easy to assess for administrators because it shows the work students are doing.

“I think it does help the educational process, because I think it will push professors like me who would otherwise push things off until the very last minute to be a bit more thoughtful and responsible,” he said.

Tara Scully, a biology professor, said the new policy will help professors who forget to upload their syllabi because the syllabi will now be automatically available.

She added that she sticks to her syllabi and is not opposed to the new policy, because it will help current students see syllabi across all disciplines prior to when classes are in session and to choose one that works for them.

“I think that it will offer students the ability to choose courses that fit their expectations – how much work, how often we meet and what the assignments are,” she said.

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