Sunday, January 25, 2009

Syllabi Blues

I know I created a whole other blog for my professorial snarkiness to get it off this blog, which is supposed to be about my kids and parenting issues, but seriously, I am at wit's end, you are my lovely online family. Chin up, and skip it if you aren't interested in Teaching Blues.

When I was in college- and honestly, folks, it wasn't that long ago- a syllabus was one, maybe two pages long. It included the name of the class, an overview of the lectures and what reading you were expected to do, a list of contact info for the professor, and what actual assignments would be. It kind of looked like this:

Art History Class You Will Love
Meets twice a week at this location
Professor ReallyCool, phone number, office number
email address (a big new thing when I was in school)
Times Professor ReallyCool hangs out in her office

This is a class about Art History. In an overview, it covers from such-and-such date to such-and-such date, and we will be looking at these Deeper Issues and generally wishing we were allowed to drink hot beverages in the classroom because we'll be doing a lot of learning and stuff while having an awesome time.

Buy these books. You'll be reading them.

You will have a midterm and a final. The midterm is on this date. The final is on this date.
You also are expected to complete a 20-page research project by this date. Please come see Professor ReallyCool to confirm your topic before the midterm. It is due on this date.

Here is the list of lectures:
Week 1 Introduction
Week 2 Wonderful staging stuff for what we'll be learning. Read this book.
Week 3 A really cool look at stuff. Read this book.
Week 4 More really cool stuff and what Professor ReallyCool wants us to know. Read this awesome article.
Week 5 Wow, isn't this great stuff? Now think about this... Oh, and read this.
Week 6 Stunning new issues to think about stuff a whole new way. Read this to understand what is going on.
Week 7 (Usually the midterm)
Week 8 A Deeper Issue you hadn't thought about before. Read this totally cool book.
Week 9 More really awesome art you wanted to see. Read this article about it.
Week 10 Some Deeper Questions about art. Read another book.
Week 11 How this art might relate to other art. Read these articles, they're awesome.
Week 12 Other Art that probably was influenced by this art. Here's a book about it.
Week 13 More Deeper Issues to make us rethink our assumptions. Read this book.
Week 14 Art is so totally awesome that we want all our friends to take this class. Read this article and this article.
Week 15 Either presentations about our projects, or a kick-ass wrap-lecture. (And here's some more reading).
Final on this Date.

And that was it. Were my professors tearing their hair out about students making excuses about not coming to class or not having their textbooks? Did they have students reading newspapers, email, Facebook in their classes?

My syllabus is now six pages long, before the outline of lectures. It includes policies for attendance, policies for academic honesty, policies for cell phones, computers, reading, and other distractions. It lays out the assignments in excruciating detail, from the format of the tests to the exact requirements for notating and documenting a research assignment (including font and spacing). Now I am going to have to add in a statement saying, "You are required to have your textbook when you begin this class. If you are unable to purchase the textbook, please locate and use the copies available in the library."

When I was in college, it was assumed that the student handbook policies- such as "have your textbook" and "You are only permitted two unexcused absences per class" applied to all of your classes. A professor didn't put that stuff in each and every syllabus. the idea of using a cell phone during class time was of course ridiculous, they weren't that pervasive, but anything that made noise or distraction was just known to be verboten. You just didn't. If you did, the professor could flunk you. Just like that.

I did have a friend who got through college by asking for extensions from every single professor. She was famous for it. Even the professors knew about it, and I think they just planned accordingly when they saw her name on the roster. She was also known to be excruciatingly annoying, both to her classmates and her professors, for asking for extensions. But the point was, she was famous for it because it was so rare. Not anymore. Heck, my grad program didn't permit "Incompletes." If you had an incomplete on your record, you sacrificed your funding. Period.

Two weeks into the semester, I have students emailing me for extensions because they don't have their textbook. Big red flag: problem student here. Seriously, I have never had a student who, having "issues" at the beginning of the semester, did not continue to be a pain in my patookas for the rest of the semester. Not one. I've stopped allowing late adds, I don't care who died or what medical procedure you had. No extra credit here- more painfully poor work is not going to help your grade. And if you cannot be bothered to even think of going to the library to get your reading done, are you really ready to be in a college-level class?

And folks, it is really very depressing to see so many people unable to think for themselves, to have them insist on having things all spelled out as if we were all lawyers looking for loopholes. I think I prefer the days when a professor could just flunk you for being an arrogant jerk.

Just like that.


Sue said...

I'm glad I work with Special needs kids!
I am about to spend several hours reading your blog. You have so many good links!

kristi said...

I take online courses and those professors are TOUGH...and I see a lot of people who don't have a clue in my classes too!

Stimey said...

I would be so irritated. So, so irritated. I'm a conscientious person, and it seems like people are always surprised that I get things done and am able to think for myself. I kind of think that is the way it is supposed to be for everyone.

Niksmom said...

Ditto what Stimey said! I am always shocked and appalled when people show up to things like classes/meetings unprepared and expect people to accommodate their laziness and inconsiderateness.

(unrealted: My word ver. is "tetri" - perhaps the plural of one of my favorite games?)

little.birdy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
little.birdy said...

I have a syllabus this semester that is 15 pages long, which has to be some kind of record.

Joeymom said...

Wow. Fifteen pages. I'd say a professor has run into a big of trouble with policy. :P

little.birdy said...

That professor us say unique. ;) (I vowed to be more positive about her this semester!)

Stuart said...

On the other hand... from a student's perspective...

Unless I am told otherwise (in the syllabus or elsewhere), I assume that attendance is NOT required in a college class. College is not high school, and if I find it to be a more productive use of my time to study at home from the book rather than be present in a lecture with an unhelpful instructor-- NOT talking about you here, of course!!-- then that's what I'll do, unless I'm told up front that attendance or classroom participation is mandatory.

On the subject of textbooks-- when I was at Hopkins, we all bought our textbooks, from the campus bookstore, before the class started. 10-15 years later, and I'm back in school for nursing. It's interesting because, I'm in the community college setting now, which maybe attracts people with less financial resources than a private university? but many of my classmates didn't buy their textbooks. At the same time, textbooks are much more expensive than they used to be, too. When I started the nursing program, for example, I had $800 worth of textbooks to buy. FOR THE FIRST SEMESTER.

So I'm sure it's all the irresponsibility factors that you're talking about, but at the same time, when a single textbook costs so much (and sold at a premium in the bookstore), it's not so surprising if students try to buy the book online, or get an older edition, or try to get by without buying the textbook at all.

Joeymom said...

The attendance policy needs to be stated unless you have something in the student handbook outlining a college policy. However, when a college policy is stated, I shouldn't have to include a lengthy attendance statement in my syllabus. Not all colleges have college-wide policy.

I don't care if a student doesn't buy the textbooks. That's what libraries are for, so you don't have to buy books, and can still use them. However, you do take the chance of the book not being available all of the time- even on reserve, someone might be reading it! But that isn't my problem. My job is to point you to resources you need to learn the material and complete your work. Your job is to get those resources and complete the work on time.

Stuart said...

Well I guess saying "that isn't my problem" is one way of dealing with the issue.

Joeymom said...

Well? What else am I supposed to do? I have ordered the book so the bookstore stocks it. In fact, all major book retailers sell this book. I located it in all three local libraries and emailed the call numbers and locations. I extended due date deadlines to attempt to allow for extra time to go to the library and get the book, or order it. We selected the least expensive book available. Is it for me to purchase the book and deliver into the students' hands? Shall I break copyright law and scan it in as pdfs for the students to access online? At what point does it become no longer my problem if a student does not meet their responsibilities as a student and find access to the materials I have stated are required for completing the course?