Syllabi Central FAQ

Dean Jen Smith explains why and how we're collecting course syllabi

Why are we using Syllabi Central, and how does it affect my courses?

Do I have to do this for every course I am affiliated with as an instructor this semester?

We will be checking for syllabus submissions for all undergraduate courses (100-400 level) worth 3 or more credits that are not independent research, independent study, internship, music lessons, or performance credits, except for College Writing sections. You are certainly welcome to upload syllabi for everything.

Do you really want my entire 20-page syllabus with all the policy boilerplate, detailed course logistics information, etc.?

Whatever is easiest for you; if that’s what you’ve got, no need to edit—just upload whatever you’ve produced. The information we would most like to have available through Syllabi Central would be (see question 3 for reasoning): 

  1. Required/recommended course materials, fees, any associated expenses; 
  2. Grade breakdown/assessment schedule (what will students be expected to do/produce during the class, when are these assignments/assessments scheduled (at least roughly), and how are they weighted to determine a final grade);
  3. A weekly topic listing, calendar, or other information that gives students a sense of what you plan to cover and how much time will be spent on various topics, concepts, periods, ideas, etc. (beyond the generalities in the course description). Of course this may change!

Students will get my syllabus on the first day of class/have access to my syllabus in Canvas already! Why do you want me to do this before then? Isn’t this really meaningless bureaucratic busywork?

Bureaucratic: yes. Meaningless: no. It is highly advantageous for students – including those who aren’t formally registered for a course and thus don’t have access to its Canvas materials – to have some information about a course prior to the start of classes. 

Knowing what books and supplies they will need ahead of time gives them a chance to research cheaper ways of getting these items and having them shipped, rather than restricting them to purchasing at the bookstore so they have materials they need in the early weeks of class. Being aware of any additional expenses will help them budget for the semester.

Students tell us that they would do a lot less “course shopping,” i.e., enrolling in more courses than they intend to take and adding/dropping in the first two weeks of class, if they had access to two pieces of information when they register, or at least before classes start: the nature/timing/weighting of the course assessments (e.g., how many assignments/exams, when during the semester are they due, and what fraction of the grade do they represent?), and a basic topic schedule for the course, or at least something that gives them a sense of how much time you intend to spend on the different topics/ideas/subjects mentioned in your course description. This allows them to make a much more informed assessment of their interest in the course and their capacity to handle the workload prior to the start of the course.  Less shopping means shorter waitlists and more course availability for students with less seniority and less turnover in the first few weeks of class for us.

Does uploading this syllabus mean I’m now required to adhere to every detail in there during the semester? Isn’t that counter to the spirit of free inquiry and adaptability to student needs that makes for a dynamic and meaningful learning experience?

Of course classes can evolve over a semester, and that’s a good thing. Also, unexpected circumstances can necessitate changes to a course. You may wish to add caveats and qualifiers (e.g., tentative, preliminary, provisional) to portions of your syllabus. We’d simply ask that you let students know of substantive changes that you make to the course ASAP, and that you avoid significant changes to the scheduling or weighting of assessments/assignments after the add/drop deadline, particularly those that would markedly increase workload, or make things due earlier than planned. Some students really are planning ahead and prioritizing their time based on when things are due in different classes. 

If it’s so useful to have these syllabi available well in advance, then why are you making the deadline for us uploading the end of the first week of classes?

Though effectively all students have already registered for their fall classes, making your fall ’19 syllabus available now, or early in the fall semester, still provides long-term benefit for students. If you teach this course again, students will be able to see the syllabus for the most recent previous version when they are in the early stages of planning their course schedules for that subsequent semester. This will give them a sense of how you have approached the topic and the course in the past  – though we warn them not to rely on the course being run the same way when they take it. Also, some of you will likely be working on your syllabi right up until the first meeting of the class, and for this first full iteration of the syllabus collection process, we didn’t want to spring an earlier deadline on you. 

How do I upload my stuff to Syllabi Central?

This syllabus is my intellectual property, and I don’t want it discoverable by anyone searching the internet! Who will be able to see this?

You have the option to require WUSTL key login in order to view your syllabus; see step 7 in “How to upload your syllabus to Syllabi Central” for details. That way only Washington University community members will be able to see your syllabus. You could also choose just to upload a partial syllabus containing only the information most valuable to students for their future planning (see question 2 for details).

I don’t have one traditional syllabus document anymore. I link to Canvas, websites, etc. So do I seriously have to create a traditional syllabus document for no other purpose than to fulfill this administrative request?

Yes, and here’s why: In order to make information available to students who don’t have access to your Canvas course materials or who may be considering enrolling in the class, we would very much appreciate your cutting and pasting at least the basic information described in the answer to question 2 from your Canvas content into a single document and uploading that. We’re looking into ways to make this easier, and apologize for the additional step. 

Do I have to go back and populate past semesters’ classes with the syllabi from those years?

Absolutely not. That would be pointless bureaucratic busywork!

How/where will my uploaded syllabi be viewable?

Your syllabi can be found through course listings; mouse over your course and you’ll see a link to your syllabus (circled in image below).

How do I know if my upload worked?

In Syllabi Central, icons will appear next to your course listing allowing you to view or remove the syllabus you uploaded (see image). You can also go to course listings (see question 9) to see what students will be able to find and view.