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Is “read the syllabus” a sufficient transfer of responsibility?

Course Queries Syllabus Queries
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Amie Khalifa


( 5 months ago )

In my experience, most instructors spend a large portion of the first period in a term talking about the syllabus. This seems to serve to pass responsibility onto students:

  • Students see the deadlines. No student can claim to not know about an assignment or deadline.
  • Students see the course rules. No student can claim they did not know they were breaking a rule.

In the past, some students have tried various methods, such as skipping lessons, then claiming to not know about requirements, in an attempt to get the support of the administrators to back their case of "I didn't know".

I have lots of material to cover within the term, so do not like to waste lots of time with talking about the course and would rather get started. Is "here is the syllabus, read it" sufficient for passing responsibilities onto students? If students do not read it (many won't) is the responsibility nevertheless still passed?

Dipti Singh


( 5 months ago )

From the students' perspective, this is similar to giving them a textbook and asking them to show up for the final exam. There are three reasons I see the need to start with discussing the syllabus.

First, talking about the syllabus is an opportunity to introduce yourself and the course, learn more about the students you will be teaching, and set the stage for the semester. It is a beginning of your semester-long relationship with the class after all. Skipping the overview is like taking a road trip without looking at the map first.

Second, it takes more than one repetition of same material, and preferably in different forms, for the material to be absorbed and comprehended. Thus, when the responsibility is passed to the students, their understanding of the syllabus will not be as good, no matter how diligently they read it. How important is it to you that they understand the syllabus?

Lastly, the students are denied opportunity to ask questions and discuss the syllabus and the course progression, if that is not covered in the class. Sure, they can email you, or ask during the office hours, but the entire class will not be on the same page.

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