Editorial: It’s time to make course syllabi available before first week

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Selecting courses ahead of the new academic school year can be frustrating for students. In most cases, it’s beneficial to plan your schedule ahead so when it comes time to formally choose your lecture and seminars you aren’t scrambling to avoid conflicts.

However, not all the information students need to know before selecting courses is readily available. Some students prefer choosing a course that involves more essay assignments; others may enjoy classes that focus more on test-taking or a hands on experience. To help students make this choice, it’s time they had more information about courses by releasing the course syllabi in a more timely fashion or making the previous year’s syllabi available online.

Universities do a fair job giving their students ample time to plan, releasing the day and time lectures and seminars will be held prior to course selection day. This allows students to be aware of when their mandatory classes will be held so they can fit their electives in available time slots, avoid conflicts at certain times of the day, and plan around a potential job.

Although the school provides the time and day of upcoming classes, the selection process can still be tedious for students. Selecting the right elective or course within your major can be time consuming; students want to find the right fit to their learning style and habits, and this could include knowing who is teaching the course (most courses will have an assigned professor by course selection time), what the course consists of, and having a solid understanding of what is going to be taught in the course.

It’s common to see on Facebook, specifically on the ‘Accepted at Brock’ group, students asking their peers for easy and worthwhile electives. This happens because, besides knowing the day and time, the only other information students have about a course is a description that is normally under 50 words in length.

Students dropping courses after a week or in the first month of the semester has become regular practice. Once getting their hands on the course syllabus, it becomes much more apparent what the course is about, what assignments to expect and what the workload will be. Professors will go over the syllabus in the first lecture, giving students a better understanding of whether the course will fit their needs or whether or not it will be a challenge.

For these reasons, it’s time the course syllabi became available to students ahead of the first week of class. It doesn’t have to be the new version a professor is putting together – a copy of the previous year would be significant. It’s common for a new professor to copy some things from the professors who previously taught the course, but nonetheless, it gives students a better gauge of every course.

In 2014, the National Council on Teacher Quality conducted a study in the United States which was meant to evaluate education school programs. This study included the NCTQ receiving access to course syllabi from many institutions. The University of Missouri refused to hand over their syllabi and the matter was taken to court, where the NCTQ lost because it was ruled that syllabi are protected by federal copyright law.

Professors may be reluctant to release their syllabi ahead of time due to the above reason, however, if professors are going to use the same course outlines from year to year, or adopt some or all material from other professors, then a copyright law doesn’t make much sense.

In some cases, students will look over the course syllabus once and throw it out or put it in a pile that is easily forgotten. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that providing them ahead of time helps students choose classes more effectively. This may also lower the number of course withdrawals as well.

Professors tend to put the outlines online for the class to access anyways so what’s stopping universities from creating a page where students can access previous year outlines? Brock University’s library has exams available from previous years – in most cases exam formats don’t change, making it easier for students to study.

Let’s make it easier for students to pick courses that fit their style of learning rather than the trend to drop courses and change schedules early into the semester.

- Satbir Singh

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