The Online Syllabus – Week Five

After reading Chapter Five there were several points I agreed with completely, and in my own online course (administered via Blackboard),  already follow:

  • Ko and Rossen are very clear about being clear! In other words, being vague has no place in an online syllabus or in any directions online for that matter. If you do really look at your syllabus as a “contract” (not saying I do), then it is safe to assume that the contract should be as specific as possible. I would like to add a note about this – proofreading is even more important in an online syllabus/course than it is in face-to-face classes. Accidentally typing a date wrong, or the number of points something is worth, etc… can mean so much more confusion in an online environment than it would in person because I’ve noticed students tend to take the syllabus as gospel and may not immediately ask for clarification before submitting something incorrectly, late and so on.
  • I agreed very much with idea that information needs to be provided more than once. While some students, we all hope that “all students”, will refer back to the Course Info page or the syllabus, often they will not. This is familiar in a face-to-face course as well. Hence, in person we often give reminders in class of an upcoming due date or homework etc… I think the same holds true for an online class, and perhaps even more so. I have the assignment schedule for the entire course listed on the syllabus, but also have each week’s assignments posted individually on the Week page so that they can easily see what is due and when. When I use a rubric for a course, I include a link to the rubric every single time I have an assignment so students do not have to go hunting back through previous weeks to find the rubric. Although this means some redundancy, I also feel it makes the course more streamlined. This allows students to focus on learning rather than on finding the material they need to learn.
  • Contact information and “virtual office hours.” I use this already and I think it works great. My course information page has a brief bio with my contact info and also a note about the days I am online. I tell my students this so they do not panic if they do not get a discussion board response from me within five hours of sending it. I also tell them how quickly I respond to email. This gently reminds students that we also have lives and are not connected 24/7, while at the same time letting them know they are important and will be replied to as soon as possible.

A few things I could come or go on:

  • I’m not sure a syllabus is a contract. Maybe it is more of a guideline. I’m still undecided on this. When I first began teaching I had a few cases of plagiarism and when I had to report it to higher ups they always needed to see my policies on plagiarism. As a result of those experiences I began to try and make my syllabus bullet proof and very much saw it as a contract. However, more recently I have begun to reconsider this and feel that the purpose may be different than I have considered. Maybe I am putting too much weight into their use of the word “contract” and bringing in my own baggage, lol.
  • I think that it is important to post student expectations, but I also feel that it is important to post what should be expected of faculty. This can, and maybe should, go beyond just the “I am online at these times and will respond to you within 24 hours” type of info. Perhaps it also involves weekly announcements about trends being seen in the class in addition to just passing on reminders/info about assignments, perhaps it means reaching out to students who are faltering and connecting them with online resources they can use outside of your class, etc… I’m still working through this part.

I really enjoyed this chapter though. I think there were far more ideas I agreed with than not. The overall impression I came away with was being clear and being organized. I have not yet had a chance to watch the interactive syllabus presentation, so I cannot do that comparison yet. But, I am very interested to see how much I may change my opinion about the online syllabus after watching it! ha! 🙂


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. bdavisshannon
    Oct 02, 2011 @ 13:00:39

    I think you’re right about faculty expectations needing to be spelled out more specifically. This is especially true of online courses where you may be involved in unusual ways. For instance, I try to empower students by being less involved in some assignments. I make it clear that I will not be commenting during these times unless absolutely necessary, but I also make it clear when I will be posting/emailing feedback and giving students progress reports. This seems to serve to reassure the students that I am actually present.

    As to the syllabus . . . well, it is technically a contract, but I think you’re right to avoid viewing it firmly in that category. You need to have certain things: grading expectations, plagiarism policy, students with disabilities policy, etc. But I think thinking of it strictly as a contract tends to lead to writing it as something limiting of student experience–it becomes more constricting, more detailed, and, so, more convoluted and less useful to the student. it becomes something to be skipped. Instructors do, I think, need to work on making the syllabus a more accessible document.


  2. Greg Walker
    Oct 03, 2011 @ 21:33:53

    Aloha Erica,
    I have found that I need to repeat direction and instructions A LOT in online courses. I make it a habit of emailing my students a few times a week about whats going on and what is due. At the end of the week i provide a summary of the weeks discussion and assignments. At the beginning of the week I let them know what is happening that week , what is due and other expectations concerns etc.
    At the end of my syllabus I always put “subject to change” since I do quite a bit of monitoring and adjusting according to what is happening in my online course.
    Here is a resource you may want to peruse.
    What Does Your Syllabus Say About You and Your Course?



    • ericaduran
      Oct 03, 2011 @ 21:43:14

      Greg – this was such a helpful link! Thanks you for passing this on. I really love the idea at the end about asking the students to do a freewrite for a few minutes and give their feedback just on the syllabus itself. It never occurred to me to do that although I do similar exercises or round-robin discussions about assignments, readings, and the course in general both during and after the semester.

      Thank you for this! Erica


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