Do we have to hear the syllabus talk in every class? That’s the look I read on students’ faces (and sometimes actually hear them say) in the first couple of days of each semester as eyes begin to glaze over and get very heavy. The short answer to that question is, yes. As much as each of those first day policies and procedures talks may run together, each one is important. Each professor has a little different method of grading, types of assignments, calculation for semester grades, preferred contact method, office hours, and course policies on assignment and exams. It seems very dry when you sit in each class and hear what sounds so similar during that first class meeting for each course, but it is very important information.
Professors may each cover that syllabus information a little differently, but it is covered in some way so that every student knows exactly what is expected of them, what the college and course policies and procedures are, and how they will be evaluated in each course. These seemingly small differences in the first class meetings can cause big headaches as students find out, for instance, that not every course uses that standard 10-point grading scale. Some courses require homework each week in preparation for an application-based exam and some are more reading and discussions until there is an exam. The workload and type of assignments vary from course to course. It is important to note the differences and maybe even highlight those on each syllabus.
We get a little fatigued ourselves after going over our syllabus and course policies, procedures, and expectations so many times those first couple of days. I find myself a little tongue tied and hoarse by the second afternoon as I go through the information.
The syllabus is the road map for each course. It gives students important information and can provide the answers to many questions before they are asked. Here are some example of frequent questions that can be answered by referring to the syllabus:
- Can I turn in my assignment late? I just didn’t have time to finish. That is part of the late assignment policy, and it’s on the syllabus.
- Since this is college, I didn’t think you took attendance. The attendance policy is in the syllabus and is very important. Not attending and participating in your courses could cost you your scholarships, A+ funds, grants, and other financial aid.
- What do I need to pass this class? I had a 90%; I thought that was an “A.” It’s on the syllabus (remember the point that not every department uses the traditional 10-point grading scale?).
- How many exams do we have in this class? What day is our midterm and final? There is often a course schedule that is part of, or provided with, the syllabus that explains when topics are covered and when/how many exams are scheduled.
- Can I make up an exam if I miss class? It’s on the syllabus.
- What textbook do I need for this class, and is it required? It’s on the syllabus and can also be found on the SCC Bookstore webpage.
- When are you in your office? It’s on the syllabus (and can also be found many times in the course information in Canvas and is posted on faculty office doors).
- As students try to find their professor for help, they often go to the Division Office Coordinators to see where their office is and when they’ll be in. Here is how the conversation goes many times – Student: “I’m trying to find my teacher to talk to them about my assignment.” DOC: “What is your teacher’s name?” Student: “Hmmm…I can’t remember, but it’s a woman and she’s kind of short and has short hair.” All of this is on the syllabus – know your professor’s name, their office location, and their office hours.
- What is the course number for this class? This form says it needs a section number, too; what’s our section number? It’s on the syllabus.
It is also a good idea to save the syllabus from every course you take. If you transfer out of state or to a private university that looks at courses one-by-one rather than accepting your general education courses in a block, then you have information to make you case for why a course you took at one institution is equivalent to the same or similar course at another. In the syllabus you have the course description, objectives, and other information (like schedule of topics). If more information is needed, then the contact information for your professor is also available for additional questions.
A course syllabus is much like the operating manual for every home appliance or electronic device you own. If you keep it where you can find it easily, it will answer many questions and save you a lot of time.