Beyond RTFS: Syllabus as Collaborative Text

Reading this enlightening post brought to mind something I read years ago  about the blank syllabus method, in which professors/instructors create their syllabi in class with their students. They even let students have a hand in creating the class policies and procedures. I like this concept because it, among the obvious educational benefits, creates student accountability in a way that our unheeded advice to RTFS cannot. For students would simply have no rational way to complain about assignments and policies and no logical excuse (if there ever really is one) to offend against policies that they had a voice in creating.

As the above-linked post explains, creating a syllabus for a class that is not in complete existence yet (no students, no class dynamic) is counter-productive. I think of it this way: to create a syllabus before we meet and talk to our students and before we have determined the class dynamic is to create a document that is content- and administrative-centered, not student-centered. It is to create a document that says, “Your experiences, interests, and needs as a student in my class do not matter. Only I, the expert, know what you need.” Indeed, it is to create a document of disengagement.

Now this is not to say that in implementing the blank syllabus method we should abandon our university’s and department’s policies nor our expertly determined teaching and learning goals. To be sure, there are some things we absolutely know are important that students generally do not perceive as such. However, to increase our students’ valuing of  and thus engagement with our courses, we need to impress upon them their importance to and role in our abilities to successfully fulfill our teaching goals.

Besides that, create the syllabus with your students, and you have leverage.


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