Report Advocates Sharing of Syllabi Online

August 05, 2008

Universities should encourage greater openness by requiring faculty members to post course syllabi online before the beginning of the term, argues a new report by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

It doesn’t have to be the full and final version of the syllabus, with complete rules on grading and classroom demeanor. But providing detailed course descriptions and reading lists lets students know what they’re signing up for and makes professors accountable for what they teach, argues Jay Schalin, a senior writer at the nonprofit institute, in North Carolina.

The benefits, writes Mr. Schalin, would be fourfold: An online repository of syllabi would help students make informed course decisions, allow for comparisons across institutions, enable information sharing among faculty members, and “expose a professor’s deviation from normal expectations or acceptable academic standards.”

Plenty of professors are leery of syllabus sharing, for fear it might lead to syllabus stealing. But the report, “Opening Up the Classroom: Greater Transparency Through Better, More Accessible Course Information,” highlights online systems at the University of Washington and Duke University that give students information on a course’s content, method of instruction, reading list, exams, and assignments before they register for classes. —Paula Wasley