Finding importance in your syllabi

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Graphic by Spencer Light | The Broadside (Contact: slight@cocc.edu)

By Emma Kaohi | The Broadside (Contact: ekaohi@cocc.edu)

As stated on the Central Oregon Community College website, professors are required to provide students with a syllabus at the beginning of each term, posting it to Blackboard before the first day of instruction. Requirements for what can be found in the syllabus is set by COCC, but follow a template similar to most syllabi found on campuses across the country.

The following information is typically listed in a syllabus: the course name, instructor information, course description, learning outcomes, program-level outcomes, course materials, technology, topics, due dates for major graded work, final exam date and time, grading and assignments, grading scale and COCC’s policies.

“Each faculty member has their own kind of flare to it and things that reflect their personality and jokes, but if you look at most syllabi they have the same format. [With]a lot of syllabi there’s not a lot of creativity involved in them. It’s more mandated and set,” Psychology Professor Andria Woodell said. “One of the things that I’ve done with my syllabi that I’ve changed compared to the past is that I’ve started looking at my syllabi with my Society for the Teaching of Psychology and I noticed they had a lot more graphics, images and color, to kind of highlights things.”

To many students, syllabus day is only a matter of fulfilling an attendance requirement, while others use the syllabus as an opportunity to overview the course, stay organized, and write down assignments and important dates. Reading over a syllabus can be beneficial in building study habits, as the way that the class is graded and assessed prior to taking the assessment is listed and explained. Whether or not attendance is a requirement can be an important factor to many college students, so professors often state whether or not they require your in-class time in their syllabi.

Hoping to make more students invested in their learning, Anthropology Professor Christina Cappy wants to introduce a way to engage students in how they would like to be assessed and learn. By attending the Teachers in Critical Thinking Conference in Portland, she was inspired to demystify grading after a round-table discussion on the power instructors held over the grading process. Cappy was able to integrate her student’s ideas on how they learn by questioning how an instructor determines what will be graded and how it will be graded in a class after questioning why the professor held the authority over both.

On the first day, Cappy separated her class into small groups, where each group had a small discussions on how people like to learn, what they find to be the most beneficial from past experiences, how they like to be assessed, what they think encourages them to learn, what reflects what they know in a course, what good participation looks like and how to measure it. The small groups came together for a class discussion where they were able to create a syllabus suitable for the classes needs.

“So as a class we came up with the assessment of student learning,” Cappy explained. “We talked about how people wanted to be assessed on participation, what participation looked like, and how much of the grade that should be, if they wanted mid-term exams, quizzes, a paper instead, or none of the above.”

In Cappy’s classes, she passed out examples from her previous classes’ brainstormed syllabi, which allowed the class to build upon previous ideas and create new ones to suit their classes’ learning needs. Students enrolled in the fall and winter term Anthropology classes mentioned that  they enjoyed the new design according to Cappy. .

“It was really cool. She wanted to cater to our individual class needs and not just generalize us. It showed she cares about her students learning, which is really nice to see in your professors,” said first-year student Kailyn Bright.

After a student had mentioned in an exit survey that she hoped Cappy would make hard copies of the class syllabus, Cappy made a change to do so and printed out hard copies for her Spring term class. Both Woodell and Cappy have taken student feedback and made improvements to their syllabi based upon what students have said, even though the style of the creation of their syllabi differ, which can help build a stronger relationship between the professor and students. 

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