Why Use an Online Syllabus?

Online syllabusMost of us are now a few weeks into the new semester, and some among us may already be pointing students to our syllabus for answers to their questions about the course.

Syllabuses aren’t exactly a new topic of discussion. George has explained how to create a syllabus using a spreadsheet and a calendar app, and Jason’s taken up the topic of creative syllabuses on more than one occasion. And those are hardly our only posts on the subject.

For a few years now, I’ve been creating my syllabus entirely online; I don’t provide a printed syllabus to my students. I do this for a few reasons. First, it’s easier to make sure all of my students see any updates or changes that get made; I don’t have to worry about whether a student is aware of the changes if she had to miss class for some reason, since my students are supposed to be checking the course site regularly in any case. Also, I ask my students to work with WordPress during the latter part of the semester, so asking them to interact with an online syllabus built using that platform helps to get them familiar with it.

To ensure that my college still has what it needs for documentation purposes, I still need to create a printable version of both the syllabus itself and the course calendar. The latter is easy; I use Google Calendar to schedule readings and assignments, so all I have to do is print the calendar to a PDF file. The former posed a problem until a few years ago, but I now use Anthologize to pull the various pages of the syllabus into a single PDF.* I make both these files available to my students, for those who prefer to have a paper version (though I make it very clear that the online version is the canonical one).

*Anthologize was the result of the first edition of One Week, One Tool, sponsored by the Office of Digital Humanities at the NEH. Be sure also to check out Serendip-o-matic, created by the participants in One Week One Tool’s second iteration.

What about you? Do you keep your syllabus online, or do you stick to paper? Let us know about your preferences in the comments (and if you do have an online syllabus, feel free to link to it.

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by believekevin]

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