A Learning Guide for Students
As we begin another academic year in uncertain circumstances, some aspects of our teaching remain familiar: We’re preparing our courses, writing our syllabi, meeting our new students, and helping them to grow intellectually, professionally, and personally during our time together this semester.
The Center for the Advancement of Teaching is here to support you in your preparations for fall, and to support you in your teaching throughout your career at FSU. At the bottom of this message, you’ll find information about the Syllabus Clinics we’re holding on Zoom this week, so if you have a teaching question, problem, or idea you’d like to discuss, we will look forward to working with you then.
Students’ Guide to Your Course
Sometimes when we say, “writing a syllabus,” what we really mean is designing a course, and writing the syllabus is actually something we do when we’re done—or mostly done—designing. The syllabus is the document that introduces students to the course design. It’s one of their first points of contact with your course, and you can craft it to be a learning guide (as opposed to the notorious catalog of edicts and warnings).
The ever-longer list of course policies and any abstruse language added to conform to accrediting standards can wait until the end of the document, or occupy an easy-to-find place on Canvas. That way your syllabus can be an opportunity to motivate your students.
Ken Bain, in What the Best College Teachers Do (2004), describes a “promising syllabus” as one that makes a promise to students about what they can expect to gain as a result of the class; describes the course activities designed to fulfill this promise; and “begins a conversation about how the teacher and the student would best come to understand the nature and progress of the student’s learning.”
Your grading criteria are also an important form of communication (Cox, 2009). By assigning points to the work students need to do in order to learn effectively, you instruct them how to use their time. If all of the weight rests on a couple of exams or major projects, students will be very likely to cram for these high-stakes tests, rather than keeping up with daily work.
A learning-centered syllabus includes learning goals that students can understand and value; descriptions of all major assessments and their relation to the learning goals; and a sense of how the class will be conducted to support their learning–all phrased in a positive, respectful, and inviting way. You can use this checklist to make sure your document sets the tone for a productive, learning-filled semester.
If you’d like to discuss your course design, get help crafting assignments or activities, or get feedback on your syllabus, please consider attending one of our upcoming Syllabus Clinics:On Tuesday through Friday, August 17—20, from 1:00–3:00p.m., we’ll be available to work with you on any issue related to teaching. You can drop in remotely at any time during the clinic. Here’s the Zoom link.
We look forward to working with you. Welcome back!