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Talking with students: in-person vs. electronic communication

One thing I try to make a bit clearer on the syllabus is that some types of communications can be efficient via an electronic channel such as email/phone/Skype/Facetime, etc. (e.g., technical questions about class subject matter, post-class followups and further study, missed class assignments, etc.), but that other types of communications can only be effective in an in-person, face-to-face environment, such as meeting in the faculty office (e.g., letters of recommendation, medical issues, composition and prose improvement, intra-group conflict resolution, etc.).

Occasionally, students understandably but mistakenly believe that all communication between a learner and an instructor can be completed electronically. This erroneous belief works to the academic and professional detriment of the student.

(Submitted by Wayne Smith, wayne.smith@csun.edu

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Separating the syllabus from the course outline or calendar

I think that the course “syllabus” and the course “outline/calendar” should be related but separate documents.  The “syllabus” is relatively fixed; the “outline/calendar” less so.

I actually make the syllabi a .pdf file, and I make the outline/calendar an .html file.  This sets up the proper expectations early in class.  The .pdf isn’t really modifiable much, except for anomalies such as typographical errors.  The html can change depending on campus closures/emergencies, missed class time, make-up/back-fill for complicated topics, re-arrangement by the instructor based upon student input, course evaluations, etc.

It’s a minor thing, but it helps frame the synergistic but distinctive purposes of these important course artifacts.

(Submitted by Wayne Smith, wayne.smith@csun.edu)

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Reasons why syllabi should be public, discoverable, open, and accessible

I think all syllabi should be public, easily discoverable, open, and accessible.  There are several reasons for this, but one is pragmatic.

During the matriculation process, it’s not precisely clear who is and who isn’t actually enrolled. If a student, or potential student, isn’t enrolled (yet) in SOLAR, then placing your syllabus in a log-in environment such as Moodle may inadvertently prevent the student from accessing the syllabus. If a student is enrolled, but then is subsequently dis-enrolled (perhaps temporarily) for, say, financial aid reasons, then such a student may miss out on important class communications, including the syllabus. Also, ideally, the syllabus should be publicly-available before the first student enrolls (that is, before priority registration begins). This practice would minimize questions, specify textbooks correctly, and generally prepare the student for success in the course.

There are other reasons why I think syllabi should be open, public, and accessible, but I’ll leave those for a different discourse venue.

(Submitted by Wayne Smith, wayne.smith@csun.edu)

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Consider creating a permanent webpage (or a reusable collection) of all your own policies, as faculty member Linda Overman has done.

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Moodle Book module

You can post your syllabus as a series of pages with next/previous buttons and a table of contents on Moodle by using the “Book” module. This is one of the resource options in Moodle under “Add an activity or resource”. It is a nice way to organize the syllabus and students can then jump directly to the section they want to review. 

(Submitted by Hillary Kaplowitz, hillary.kaplowitz@csun.edu)

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"I don’t always ignore your emails….but when I do, it’s because the answer is in the syllabus."

Likely source: http://memegenerator.net/instance/45113159

(Submitted by Linda Overman,  loverman@pacbell.net, with thanks to Kitty Nard.)

"I don’t always ignore your emails….but when I do, it’s because the answer is in the syllabus."

Likely source: http://memegenerator.net/instance/45113159

(Submitted by Linda Overman, loverman@pacbell.net, with thanks to Kitty Nard.)

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Invitation to Self-Identify: Start of Term Questions

Under the broad aegis of “Invitation to Self-Identify,” I ask each student at the beginning of the semester to tell me if:

1) she or he is a veteran.  We have many veterans now at CSUN, and they often have leadership skills that can be useful in class

2) she or he is a student athlete.  This does two things: first, it prepares me for the “progress report” request that I know I’ll need to complete and sign eventually; and second, I attend at least one of the student’s games or events (sometimes that means going in the following semester).  The student comes to my class; I attend one of her or his games.  This builds trust and respect with our student-athletes.

3) she or he is an international student or transfer student.  I want to ensure that these students understand the intellectual culture of CSUN, and scaffold each student’s success in any way I can. (Also, I myself was a transfer student to CSUN).

Submitted by Wayne Smith, wayne.smith@csun.edu

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Grades

I include a statement before my grading system that reads, “Grades are not negotiated.  They are earned.”  This has eliminated students begging for grades that they did not earn the vast majority of the time.

(Submitted by Loretta Winters, loretta.winters@csun.edu)

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CSUN’s Faculty Development and Academic First Year Experiences are collaborating to offer CSUN faculty examples of syllabus best practices. We invite you to share your ideas with us on this blog.