How You Can Avoid the "Syllabus Lecture" on the First Day of the Semester

It’s that time of year again. The school year is just around the corner for some and already here for others. The first day of class usually consists of going over the syllabus. In my experience, this is usually the only thing covered or at the very least takes up most of the class period. I just want to clarify, I haven’t had the opportunity to teach my own class in person yet but I have taught a couple classes online. The suggestion below is how I setup my online courses with regards to the syllabus. It will work well with an on-campus course as well.

No one wants to listen to someone go over the syllabus for 30 minutes or more on the first day of class. Its boring not only for you, the teacher, but also your students. Some might think, can’t the students just read the syllabus? Well, yes, you would think but I would venture to guess that the percentage of students that actually read the syllabus is pretty low.

My suggestion is to make a short 5 minute video covering some of the major points of the syllabus. Nowadays it is easy to record your screen, especially on the Mac.[1] This allows you to personally highlight some important features of the course. Along with the video require your students to read the syllabus but don’t just leave it at that. Create a quiz over the contents of the syllabus (i.e. asking about specific due dates, late policies, reading requirements, etc.). This way even if your students don’t read the whole thing the quiz acts as a contract verifying that they understand what is required in the course.

One more thing. Often times students have questions over different aspects of the syllabus. Create an open discussion board for students to post these questions instead of having them email you the questions. This way the entire class has access to the questions and answers concerning the syllabus.

This takes a little bit of preparation but once you have set it up once you can use it in subsequent semesters. Virtually every school uses an LMS (Learning Management System) such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, etc. This isn’t just for online education but it can be a vital part of your on-campus course as well.

Have any comments or questions? Reach out to me on Twitter: @renshaw330 or leave a comment below.

  1. On the Mac just open up Quicktime then click File > New Screen Recording.  ↩