Cross-posted to the general blog space before I found this area…
Kirsten’s session on redesigning your syllabus to incorporate UDL principles has me thinking about the concept of a Living Syllabus. My first description of a living syllabus was one that is adjusted as the course progresses. For example, if you provide links to resources or a glossary of key terms for the course, you then update them as the course progresses. But this leads to another thought: what about a syllabus co-created with students, or a syllabus that is not just a syllabus but acts as a framework for the entire class? I’m not talking about changing the schedule or content of the course in the middle of the semester–that might be interesting but might also be aggravating for students–a sort of bait and switch.
Rather, I’m wondering if there are ways to incorporate student work in what begins as a syllabus. Take that glossary example: rather than giving students lists of keywords for each section, why not have them create the glossary as the course goes along, and create it in syllabus. Obviously what you will end up with won’t be a traditional syllabus, but isn’t that the point of adding the digital to the print tradition: using the digital to expand possibilities?
What other aspects of a syllabus could benefit from student input?
And here’s an additional variation: how about something that starts as a syllabus but ends as a student’s individual portfolio. In other words, create the syllabus as a framework that students can take away and personalize, add their own work to, and save as a portfolio of their work in the course.
I think it is important to distinguish the syllabus from other resources that are provided for students. I see the syllabus as the contract with the students: This is what I am going to provide for you and what I expect from you. The syllabus includes the assignments, readings, due dates, etc. In many quarters, the syllabus is expected to be fixed, and can only be changed if everyone in the course agrees, since students use it to plan their semester and manage their work.
Many faculty use resources that are developed as the course progresses, as you suggest. The syllabus may provide the beginning for these, and define the expectations for products students work on. The steps in the assignment may be defined in the syllabus, but the resulting “living documents” are not part of the syllabus. Rather, they are expressions of what the students are learning. Examples of these are often found in Blackboard and sometimes in course web sites. Google docs or similar group authoring applications are sometimes used. Such products may become resources for subsequent students or courses. In advanced courses, they may even lead to published works or web resources.
Activities such as these in courses, whether individual or group, provide both students and faculty means to share learning, to keep track of progress, to identify problems and issues in the learning, and to work together to address the problems and support each other’s learning.