An exercise for active reading of the syllabus

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham


It’s syllabus-writing season! Here’s an exercise I devised several years ago that I’m still using to promote students’ active thinking about course policies — and faculty understanding of how students perceive course requirements and regulations. The article explaining my exercise was published in the Atlantic Universities’ Teaching Showcase Proceedings 2010, pages 55-59.

The abstract follows, and a link to the full article is given below.

“Think Like A Professor!: Student and Faculty Perceptions of Course Policies”

The “Think Like a Professor!” exercise is designed to enliven introductory classes while presenting course policies and regulations to students. The exercise pulls students out of their passive role as receptacles of course information, puts them in the instructor’s place, and asks them to apply the instructor’s course policies in various scenarios based on real incidents. The exercise accomplishes several goals, including establishing appropriate modes of interaction among students, asking students to read and extract information, requiring students to apply, analyze, and synthesize facts and ideas, giving students insight into how their actions are perceived by faculty and others, and giving faculty feedback on their regulations and a view of student attitudes and values. Students are encouraged to see that course policies and regulations have a purpose that is applicable to both students and instructors.

Think Like a Professor! Student & Faculty Perceptions of Course Policies [pdf]

2 responses to “An exercise for active reading of the syllabus”

  1. Hey: this is amazing! I’m looking at my downloaded copy and trying to think how I could adapt it to a completely online course! I’ve already done one adaptation (a “choose your own assignment” sequence which had to be adapted to make it doable in a course shell which isn’t very flexible about what is in the gradebook and how it’s graded) for one class. I also revamped my syllabi after seeing a great article about reformatting it. I don’t think I have the link saved, but it was more or less about graphic adaptation. (Amy A-R posted a link to it in her facebook..). So I”m thinking some of this might make a good discussion assignment (I graded discussions mostly on effort–i.e. did they answer all the questions with details and complete sentences!).

    Much. think. more…


    • Thanks, Robin! I don’t know what’s involved in your online gradebook, but I don’t grade these student responses — or I do only insofar as I count student responses as part of their participation grade. When I do the exercise in an online discussion forum, I post each scenario and then ask students to post their ideas by replying to that scenario — but they also have to read other students’ replies and respond to those as well. This way, I’m trying to model class discussion and interactions — each student has to “listen” to others. I tell students that even if they agree with a previous post, they should say so (and then provide their own evidence). I also tell them that I don’t want people doing what is equivalent to marching into the room, making a speech, and then leaving and not coming back. I never have more than 30 students, so maybe this works better for me than for people with huge classes.
      I’d love to see that graphic adaptation article; I don’t have Amy A-R on my facebook, but I’ll see if she’ll “friend” me.


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