Write a 400- to 500-word initial post that is organized into multiple paragraphs in which you:
· Review the Learning Resources and Course Announcement.
· Complete a search online for syllabi in foundational human services courses, which are typically named Introduction to Human Services or Foundations in Human Services. Choose a syllabus.
· Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the syllabus you chose.
· For this Discussion, you should cite the sources you use to support your evaluation. However, APA formatting of those citations will not be assessed as part of your Discussion grade.
BY DAY 4
Write a 400- to 500-word initial post that is organized into multiple paragraphs in which you:
· Share an overview of your chosen syllabus and provide an attached .doc or .pdf file or link to the original source. Note if the course is in-person, online, or hybrid.
· Evaluate the strengths of the syllabus by pointing out at least 4 effective features of the syllabus. Use Learning Resources to support your evaluation.
· Evaluate the weaknesses of the syllabus by pointing out at least 2 changes you would make. Explain how these changes would improve the syllabus. Use Learning Resources to support your evaluation.
The Gannon and Poorvu Center resources explain the basic steps of creating a syllabus. Richmond (2016); Ludy et al. (2016); and Bezzerides et al. (2020) all discuss the role of syllabi in teaching and reaching students. These resources will help with the Discussion and the Week 5 Assignment.
· Gannon, K. (2018, September 12). How to create a syllabus: Advice guideLinks to an external site. . The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-syllabus
· Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.-b) Syllabus design Links to an external site. . https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/SyllabusDesign
· Richmond, A. S. (2016, September). Constructing a learner-centered syllabus: One professor’s journey: IDEA paper #60Links to an external site. . IDEA. https://www.ideaedu.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/IDEA%20Papers/IDEA%20Papers/PaperIDEA_60.pdf
· Ludy, M.-J., Brackenbury, T., Folkins, J. W., Peet, S. H., Langendorfer, S. J., & Beining, K. (2016). Student impressions of syllabus design: Engaging versus contractual syllabus Links to an external site. . International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 1–23. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2016.100206
· Bezzerides, J., Daly-Galeano, M., & Payton, S. (2020). Syllabus as inclusive practice Links to an external site. . Syllabus, 9(1), 1–2. https://www.syllabusjournal.org/syllabus/article/view/297
· Document: Week 5 Assignment: Create a Syllabus Directions Download Week 5 Assignment: Create a Syllabus Directions(PDF)
It is the first day of class, and what are you discussing? Yes, the syllabus! You do what you have always done: review certain elements of the syllabus (e.g., grading policies, due dates, assignments, and assessments)—all the important things that you want your students to know. When you are finished, you might even have a little time left to start teaching course content. After class, you reflect on how the first day went, and a few questions surface. You might ask yourself, What is the purpose of my syllabus? My students seemed very disengaged today. Why? Now that I think of it, the syllabus doesn’t match who I am as a teacher. Why not? Ultimately, you conclude that something must change and that you need to investigate how to improve your syllabus.
The good news is that there is an increasing amount of available research on best practices in syllabi construction (e.g., Altman & Cashin, 1992; Cullen & Harris, 2009; Grunert, 2000; Slattery & Carlson, 2005). However, more important, a growing body of research and practice suggests that learner-centered syllabi can have several positive impacts on students (e.g., DiClementi & Handelsman, 2005; Harrington & Gabert-Quillen, 2015; Richmond et al., 2014; Richmond, Slattery, Morgan, Mitchell, & Becknell, 2016b; Richmond, Morgan, Slattery, & Venzke, 2013; Saville, Zinn, Brown, & Marchuk, 2010). Moreover, Cullen and Harris best define a learner-centered syllabus as “an attempt to create community, a sharing of power and control over what is learned and how it is learned as well as a focus on assessment and evaluation tied directly to learning outcomes” (p. 117).
However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Prior to discussing the construction of a learner-centered syllabus, it is important to understand the main purpose of a syllabus as traditionally researched and practiced and the benefits of a learner- centered one.
The Purpose of a Syllabus: A Historical Review The syllabus can take many different forms and serve many different purposes (Altman & Cashin, 1992; Slattery & Carlson, n.d., 2005). First, and in some cases foremost, the syllabus is viewed as a contract (Elberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001; Habanek, 2005; Richmond, Boysen, & Gurung, 2016a). Robinson, Wolf, Czekanski, and Dillon (2014) suggest that the syllabus defines and establishes the respective duties, roles, and responsibilities of the students and the teacher. Contractual syllabus elements may include a description of and rules regarding plagiarism and academic dishonesty; a calendar of course events; and policies on grading, exams, revising and redoing assignments, turning in late work, and implementing elements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Parkes & Harris, 2002; Slattery & Carlson, 2005).
Second, the syllabus is also considered a permanent record that contains detailed and accurate information about the course requirements and content (Parkes & Harris, 2002). Examples include the course-catalog description and accurate summaries of student learning objectives (SLOs); evaluation procedures; course content; and required readings, textbooks, and other materials (Richmond, et al., 2016a).
Abstract Educators increasingly agree that a learner-centered syllabus is associated with better rapport between students and teachers and increased student motivation, achievement, and empowerment. Accordingly, in 2009 Cullen and Harris developed a rubric for assessing the degree to which a syllabus is learner-centered versus teacher-centered. To date, however, there has been no such resource to explain how to actually construct a learner-centered syllabus. Therefore, I set out to provide a primer: In the first half of this paper, I review the history of syllabus construction and then discuss the research that assesses the impact of learner-centered syllabi. In the second half, I provide an assessment tool for teachers, based on the work of Cullen and Harris, for evaluating a syllabus to determine its learner-centeredness. I then explain specific elements of a learner-centered syllabus and provide examples of how to include these elements in your syllabus.
Aaron S. Richmond • Metropolitan State University of Denver
Constructing a Learner-Centered Syllabus: One Professor’s Journey
IDEA Paper #60 • September 2016
Third, the syllabus can serve as a cognitive map and learning tool for students (Matejka & Kurke, 1994; Parkes & Harris, 2002). That is, the syllabus allows teachers to provide students with a visual layout of the course and, ideally, an explanation of how to succeed. Such a syllabus is student- or learner-centered, in that it includes detailed success tips; common misconceptions and pitfalls students encounter and how to avoid them; a list of campus resources (e.g., writing, disability, counseling, and student success centers); as well as an embedded explanation of course assignments, assessments, and activities (Cullen & Harris, 2009; Parkes & Harris, 2002, Slattery & Carlson, n.d., 2005).
Why Construct a Learner-Centered Syllabus? As alluded to previously, there is mounting evidence that learner-centered syllabi can have positive effects on both students and teachers (e.g., DiClementi & Handelsman, 2005; Harrington & Gabert-Quillen, 2015; Richmond et al., 2013, 2014, 2016b; Saville et al., 2010). First, research suggests that when teachers construct learner-centered syllabi, students are empowered and behave better in class (DiClementi & Handelsman, 2005). A learner-centered syllabus may cause students to perceive the teacher as possessing more exemplary teaching characteristics (e.g., approachability, flexibility) and greater rapport with them. Moreover, students remember more details from a learner- centered syllabus (Richmond et al., 2014; Saville et al., 2010).
In a true experimental design with random assignment, Richmond and colleagues (2016b) asked students to read hypothetical course syllabi that were independently rated as learner-centered or teacher-centered, using Cullen and Harris’s (2009) rubric for evaluating learner-centeredness.
Students then rated the instructor associated with each syllabus on student-professor rapport (Wilson & Ryan, 2013) and the master teaching behaviors outlined by Keeley, Furr, and Buskist (2009). Richmond et al. (2016b) found that students who read a learner-centered syllabus perceived its teacher as possessing more rapport with students (e.g., in terms of student engagement and perceptions) and as exhibiting higher levels of the master-teacher behavioral qualities of “approachable/personable,” “creative/ interesting,” “encouraging/caring,” “enthusiastic,” “flexible/ open-minded,” and “happy/positive.” Additionally, students who received a learner-centered syllabus recalled more elements of the syllabus than students who received a teacher-centered syllabus.
In a similar study, Saville and colleagues (2010) found that students who received a very detailed syllabus (including learner-centered elements) perceived the instructor as possessing significantly higher levels of master-teacher behaviors (e.g., approachable, creative, caring, enthusiastic) compared to an instructor who wrote a brief syllabus for the same course. Therefore, it appears that constructing a learner-centered syllabus can positively affect your students’ perceptions of your teaching behaviors and the rapport you have with them.
Second, constructing a learner-centered syllabus with a positive tone and discussing it on the first day of class may affect how students perceive the instructor (Harnish & Bridges, 2011). In a cleverly designed experiment, Harnish and Bridges randomly assigned students to read syllabi that were designed with either a cold or a warm tone. (See Table 1 for examples of warm and cold syllabus tones.) Students then rated the instructor who “wrote” the syllabus on scales of
Table 1 • Examples of Friendly and Warm Syllabus Elements
Syllabus Element Warm and Friendly Language
Learning resources for students
Each class is different. Sometimes we need a little help from one another to learn how to study for a test or complete an assignment. If you need help, please do not hesitate to come and talk to me
Office hours Student Hours Plaza 220 AB MF 9:00–10:00 a.m. TR 10:30–11:30 a.m. [email protected] If these hours do not work with your schedule, please let me know and I will try to work out a time to meet you. Or, if my door is open, just stop on by, I would love to see you.
Teaching Philosophy I truly believe in your success as a student and adapting my instruction to ensure your success. Below you will find several different instructional methods to help me accomplish my goal: 1. I vary my teaching methods to ensure that our courses are accessible to all students . . . 2. I believe in transparency, meaning I have nothing to hide from you and you have nothing to hide
from me . . . 3. Everyone has the right and ability to be successful in this course . . . 4. In my courses I promote a safe climate where we examine content from multiple cultural
perspectives . . . 5. Foremost, I believe in student-centered active learning . . .
Note. Content in this table is modeled on Harnish and Bridges (2011).
approachability, warmth, coldness, motivation, and difficulty. Harnish and Bridges found that students perceived the instructor who wrote the warm syllabus as significantly more motivated, warm, and approachable, as well as a less difficult teacher.
Third, asking students to generate elements of the syllabus, such as classroom behavior rules, on the first day of class versus the instructor providing such behavior rules is associated with higher student ratings (DiClementi & Handelsman, 2005). In the self-generated classroom- behavior class, students were divided into small groups, which were each assigned a behavioral category (e.g., eating in class) and instructed to develop a rule for it. The class then voted on each of the rules generated and discussed strategies for implementation and enforcement. Finally, each student wrote the classroom rules and strategies on his or her syllabus. DiClementi and Handelsman found that the class in which the instructor generated the classroom rules experienced higher frequencies of negative student behaviors. Students who wrote their own classroom-behavior rules rated the instructor more favorably; however, there was no difference between the two groups in perceived fairness and importance of the classroom rules or in course grades.
Finally, syllabi that have been peer-reviewed by syllabi experts and published (e.g., Project Syllabus of the Society of Teaching of Psychology) tend to be more learner-centered than teacher-centered. Richmond et al. (2013, 2014) studied peer-reviewed exemplary psychology syllabi and found they were predominantly learner-centered regarding learning rationale, collaboration, the student’s role, outside resources, syllabus tone and focus, grading, feedback mechanisms, and learning outcomes. However, they also found that the syllabi tended to be teacher-centered when it came to the teacher’s role and accessibility, evaluation, and revising and redoing.
As demonstrated by several studies (e.g., DiClementi & Handelsman, 2005; Harrington & Gabert-Quillen, 2015; Richmond et al., 2016b; Saville et al., 2010), when you redesign your course syllabi with a learner-centered focus you can increase many desirable student learning outcomes and improve perceptions of both the teacher and course. Now the question becomes, How do I construct a learner-centered syllabus?
How to Construct a Learner-Centered Syllabus In this section, I describe how I changed my teacher-centered syllabus to a learner-centered one. The changes I made were based on Cullen and Harris’s (2009) excellent rubric for evaluating the degree to which your syllabus follows the tenets of learner-centered instruction. I began with a syllabus for one of my most frequently taught courses and evaluated it using this rubric (summarized in Table 2). I then changed the syllabus according to suggestions from Cullen and Harris and other prominent researchers in the field, and reevaluated it using the same rubric.
Cullen and Harris (2009) describe several key qualities of a learner-centered syllabus. These include the major factors that establish community (e.g., accessibility of the teacher, the role of collaboration, and a learning rationale), those that define the balance of power and control between student and teacher (e.g., the teacher’s role, the student’s role, outside resources, and syllabus focus), and those of evaluation and assessment (e.g., grades, feedback mechanisms, evaluation, desired learning outcomes, and revision/redoing). The rubric lists 15 of these elements, each rated on a scale of 1 (more teacher-centered) to 4 (more learner-centered). The 15 elements are divided among the sub-factors of community, power and control, and evaluation/assessment. For example, Cullen and Harris (p. 123) state that the community sub- factor of accessibility of teacher would be as follows:
1 = Available for prescribed number of office hours only; 2 = Available for prescribed number of office hours; provides phone and email; 3 = Multiple means of access; and encourages interaction; 4 = Multiple means of access; and requires interactions.
For a complete list of all of the questions and the scoring rubric, refer to Cullen and Harris.
To start the process, I first evaluated a syllabus that I had been using for years (and that I considered a good syllabus that was learner-centered), using Cullen and Harris’s (2009) rubric. Likewise, your first step would be to choose a syllabus and evaluate it, using the modified version of Cullen and Harris’s rubric in Table 2 or Cullen and Harris’s original rubric to evaluate your syllabus.
What areas scored lower than expected? What is your plan for making your syllabus more learner-centered? In what follows, I discuss examples and ways for you to make your syllabus more learner-centered, based on my own experience.
Community in a Syllabus, Really? So, what does it mean to have community in your syllabus and, as a function of the syllabus, community in your course? Cullen and Harris (2009) suggest that your syllabus should express your desire to create a community of learners within your classroom. They also observe that you can establish community through specific syllabus elements; namely, accessibility of the teacher, learning rationale, and required collaboration.
Accessibility of the teacher. If you were to survey your students and ask them, “How accessible do you think I am?” what would their response be? Very accessible? Not accessible at all? Somewhat accessible? In other words, how can your students contact you? On one side of the spectrum (teacher-centered), if you list only your office hours and office phone number, students may find you unapproachable or inaccessible. It was not surprising that when I first rated my syllabus on this element, I quickly discovered that it tended to be more teacher-centered because of my limited
Table 2 • A Self-Assessment of How Learner-Centered Your Syllabus Is
Directions: Please fill out the self-evaluation below based on how often you provide this information in your syllabus. Scale: 4 = Always, 3 = Often, 2 = Rarely, 1 = Never
1. You are available for multiple office hours, and by multiple means of access, including phone(s), e-mail, fax.
2. You hold open hours in locations other than office (e.g., library or student union).
3. You provide rationales for assignments, activities, methods, policies, and procedures that are tied to learning outcomes.
4. Collaboration is required through group work in class, team projects, or encouraging your students to learn from one another in other ways.
Power and Control
5. You encourage students to participate in developing policies and procedures for class and to provide input on grading, due dates, and assignments.
6. Students are expected to provide outside resource information for class. 7. You require that students take responsibility by bringing additional knowledge to class via class discussion or
presentation. 8. Your syllabus is weighted toward student learning outcomes and means of assessment. Evaluation and Assessment
9. Your grades are tied to learning outcomes. 10. You provide opportunities to achieve extra points. 11. Not all work done in the course is graded. 12. Your syllabus provides clear and complete information about course grading/assessment. 13. You employ periodic feedback mechanisms to monitor learning (e.g., graded and nongraded quizzes, tests,
lecture-response systems, tests, reflection papers). 14. You have both summative and formative evaluations (e.g., oral presentations, group work, self-evaluation, peer
evaluation). 15. You allow students to revise and redo their assignments.
Note. This self-assessment is modified and adapted from Cullen and Harris (2009, pp. 123–125).
access outside of class (as illustrated in Figure 1a). If you are interested in incorporating learner-centered elements into your syllabus, you need to do more. You should list not only your office hours and office phone number but—dare I say it?—your cell/mobile phone number. If providing your cell number creates some privacy problems, you may want to use an anonymous texting service such as Celly. This will allow you to text your students anonymously with various course announcements and other communications without knowing their cell numbers or they knowing yours. Alternatively, or in addition, you should highly encourage your students to visit with you at your office or even require them to stop by during your office hours (as illustrated in Figure 1b).
Learning rationale. Do you provide a detailed rationale for each type of assignment and assessment tied to learning outcomes? If you are like me and listed only the details of the
assignment or assessment (i.e., what to do and when) but did not provide a reason for your requirements, your syllabus may tend to be more teacher-centered (Cullen & Harris, 2009). For instance, why do you give exams? Perhaps your syllabus describes what your exams are like (e.g., types of questions, whether or not they are comprehensive), but does it explain why you believe they are important for student learning? To illustrate, in my developmental research methods course (an upper-division psychology course), I have a journal article evaluation assignment. From a more teacher-centered perspective, I might describe the assignment as follows:
Journal Article Evaluation: You will be required to read three separate articles that demonstrate different research designs discussed in class. You will then be asked to answer several questions that pertain to one of the three articles.
However, from a more learner-centered perspective, I would describe and explain the assignment like this:
Journal Article Evaluation (tied to SLOs 1 and 2): This assignment is designed to assess your skills as a critical reader and to apply the concepts taught in class to published research. Becoming a critical reader will help you in your future career by enabling you to be accurate in your assumptions and predictions. You will be required to read three separate articles that demonstrate different research designs discussed in class. You will then be asked to answer several questions that pertain to one of the three articles.
Notice that in the learner-centered example I explain the intent of the assignment and tie it to specific SLOs that are also listed in the syllabus.
Collaboration. Incorporating collaborative learning into your class can increase student learning (e.g., class academic performance), student engagement, class attendance, and conceptual understanding (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson, & Weiss, 2009; Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011; Freeman et al., 2007; Haak, HilleRisLambers, Pitre, & Freeman, 2011; Preszler, 2009; Saville, Zinn, Neef, Van Norman, & Ferreri, 2006). When creating a learner-centered syllabus, it is very important to not only encourage but also require collaboration in your course. Although not all courses are amenable to substantial amounts of collaboration, most can incorporate it to some degree, in ways that are often overlooked.
According to Cullen and Harris (2009), if you prohibit collaboration (and your syllabus reflects this), your syllabus is considered teacher-centered regarding this element. However, if you highly encourage or require collaboration and use collaborative techniques in your class (as described in your syllabus), this element of your syllabus is considered highly learner-centered. You can foster collaboration through course assignments that require it during and outside of
class time. For example, in my developmental research methods course, I describe the following research project, which must be completed as a team task:
Team Research Project (SLOs 4, 5, and 6): To help you become good scientists and proper consumers of research, this project will give you firsthand experience in designing and carrying out a research project in developmental psychology. You and your group will collaboratively develop a research topic, review relevant literature, develop methodology to investigate the topic, collect and analyze data, and present your findings to the class and in a final paper.
If this type of assignment is not possible, explain (in your syllabus) that you will grade students on their participation in cooperative learning activities during class instruction (see Macpherson, n.d., for a resource and compendium of cooperative learning activities).
Perhaps you are already doing much to create community in your course. However, are your efforts conveyed in your syllabus? That is, can your students see, by reading the syllabus, your commitment to fostering a community of learners? If not, it is important, as Cullen and Harris (2009) suggest, to express and define how accessible you are to them and by what means, to discuss why they are doing specific assignments and assessments (not just their requirements), and to emphasize how strongly you encourage and require collaboration in your class.
Power and Control: It Is So Difficult to Relinquish, but Necessary Relinquishing control may arguably be the most difficult change you will make in your syllabus. I know it remains so for me. Relinquish power and control? Impossible! Cullen and Harris (2009) discuss the importance of sharing power within the class and the syllabus. Specifically, they state that “a syllabus can reveal attempts by the professor to create an environment where control is shared.” (p. 118). They suggest
Figure 1 • Community: Teacher-Centered vs. Learner-Centered Syllabus Example
Note: Syllabus element “a” is an example of teacher-centered accessibility, and “b” is an example of learner-centered accessibility.
Instructor: Dr. Aaron S. Richmond Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. by appointment only Office Location: Plaza Building 220-AB E-mail: [email protected]
Instructor: Dr. Aaron S. Richmond Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. walk-in OR JUST COME ON BY. If I am here, my door is always open. Also, remember there are participation points for coming by J Office Location: Plaza Building 220-AB E-mail: [email protected] Phone: 303-556-3085 Text via CELLY: 4573 @PSY4550 Twitter: @AaronSRichmond
Figure 2 • Power and Control: Teacher-Centered vs. Learner-Centered Syllabus Examples
(a) (b) Student Expectations a. PLEASE BE ACTIVE AND PARTICIPATE
IN CLASS. b. Listen and respect others. c. Be comfortable taking risks. d. Complete all assignments. e. Turn off your cell phones and/or
pagers. f. Be punctual for all classes. g. Discuss class concerns either after
class or during designated office hours.
h. Be prepared for class by reading chapter prior to lesson.
Expectations for Students & Instructor Student Expectations a. PLEASE BE ACTIVE AND
PARTICIPATE IN CLASS. b. Listen and respect others. c. Be co