CETL Learning Tips: What to do with the syllabus

Christina Moore, CETL Virtual Faculty Developer

Welcome to 2020 and a new semester! You likely have at least one fresh syllabus on hand. Your syllabi are normally really long so that you have all of the information you possibly need, which is a good thing. So now what? Even if your professor went through the syllabus to explain its organization and main points, it’s not quite going to make sense to you until you put your mark on it. Before coursework ramps up for the semester, make a few moves to get the most out of the syllabus. As a graduate student, I do these things to make sure larger projects don’t creep up on me and I don’t have unnecessary stress a month from now.

Code your syllabus for important information Whether color-coding, highlighting or bolding, mark up the syllabus in a way that makes frequently needed information easier to find, such as due dates and project descriptions.

Put syllabus content into your calendar Schedule reminders or alarms for project due dates. Consider a digital calendar such as Google Calendar to paste in information provided in the syllabus. If you stick with a paper planner, pencil in those dates now.

Add planning notes Note the day(s) you will miss. (You may need to tell your professor.) Write reminders of when you will need to work ahead, meet with the professor, coordinate with group members, schedule an appointment with the Writing Center or plan extra time for projects and studying.

Ask your professor questions Is that first eight-page paper double-spaced? (Check to see if a documentation style like APA is listed.) Are there conflicting dates? How should assignments be submitted? When I taught writing classes, I appreciated when students asked me these questions early in the semester if the syllabus had an error, as this showed me students were planning ahead and reading the syllabus.

A lot more can be done to own your syllabi, such as visually labelling them so they are easy to distinguish. If I get an electronic copy of a syllabus, I rearrange content based on my needs while always keeping the original version. (I share more on this in the Customize Your Syllabus Learning Tip at oakland.edu/teachingtips.) The most important thing is to do something with the syllabus from Week 1 — engaging with the syllabus will help you remember the information you most need.

Welcome back, and have a great start to the year!

Christina Moore

Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Find more Learning Tips at oakland.edu/teachingtips.