Students and professors weigh in on how to best take advantage of your syllabus

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As the semester begins, students and faculty alike will come together for the ritual of syllabus week. This week, little coursework will be done, and the faculty usually concentrate on defining the route of the class for the rest of the semester. Though the week is commonly known to be easy in comparison to the weeks following, the syllabus is a document that foretells the structure of the rest of the semester for students.

“I feel like a lot of the information sometimes is just copy-and-pasted stuff that students kind of need to know, but that they don’t really care about,” said Lauren Kerner, a junior studying graphic design. 

Kerner said that the most important element of syllabi is a course schedule, or something that outlines what the coursework will look like throughout the semester if professors choose to include it. 

“I took a couple of online classes last semester, and I noticed that the syllabus for both of those classes had a calendar that had really different due dates. We’d get emails from our professor saying, ‘Oh, ignore that date,’ and it was just kind of messy,” said Kerner. 

Although going through a syllabus can seem like a futile use of time, professors often work hard on the documents to ensure that they accurately portray the class to come, according to English professor Samantha Harvey. 

“I really see the syllabus as a contract between me and the student. That means I try to be very transparent about my expectations, and about the assignments and due dates,” Harvey said. “Students are then responsible that everything in that syllabus they have been informed about [sic].”

Harvey also noted that a syllabus can be a useful tool for students in understanding the progression of a course and how to best navigate it according to the direction of the professor. 

“Ideally, a syllabus can be an aid for students for where they’re going to go,” Harvey said. “And then once they’ve completed their term when they’re studying for the final exam, they’ll look back and say, ‘Wow, we really covered all different authors and genres and movements.’”

For Taylor Spikes, a junior studying elementary physical education, professors that provide strong guidance for students give her the structure she wants in a class. 

“I like a clear and concise schedule of what I’m supposed to be doing,” Spikes said. “I do think some professors get too lengthy in their syllabi; all I really expect is how to contact them, the schedule of what is expected of me to turn in and do, and an outline of the class.” 

When syllabi are too long, Spikes said that she often does not read them because it seems like unnecessary content. As long as the professor lets the students know what is expected of them week-by-week, Spikes feels that the professor is using the syllabus correctly. 

“I use [the syllabus]more as a reference than as a bible for the class,” said Spikes. “I think that the reason professors do it is so there are clear expectations for everyone including the professor, and if there’s something not completed it’s on the student not on them.” 

Though syllabus week may seem like a free pass with little to no work, a syllabus can be an important element of students’ experiences with a class, and their ability to understand what the professor will expect from them in the weeks to follow.


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