This blog was originally posted on January 21st, 2015.
Amazing how quickly the break goes, right? Here at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) we’ve been back since January 5 (we start so early!) so I’ve been thinking about syllabi and wondering just what a syllabus is (or might be) (or could be) (or should be).
I’ve known some who consider the syllabus a contract and in fact implement some form of contract grading (à la Peter Elbow) and certainly here at FAU the syllabus is, in part, a bureaucratic instrument, filled with mandated statements to ensure compliance with various state and university policies. But I think for me, a syllabus is something else, and I have been trying to figure out what that something else is.
Centrally, I view a syllabus is an intellectual project. It’s my chance to imagine, project, and describe this “class” I have in my head (the one that’s perfect and thus never happens). I mull over each element, consider how one flows to the next, tweak this and that. In some ways, I frontload my intellectual labor given how much time I spend designing the syllabus.
Syllabi are also design projects for me, which is to say I use them as visual essays / arguments / statements about the class. I spend a shocking amount of time just choosing the right font. I also consider the layout, the typography, and images. I want the design to say something about the class and its goals.
So I guess I would say that for me a syllabus is like a mini-essay. I am laying out a line of thinking about the issues of the class, carefully organized through each week, and I am inviting students as my readers to follow that argument.
What exactly is a syllabus for you?