No More “Syllabus Day!”

Before last fall, when I would start to plan out my first day of A&P, I always greatly underestimated the time it would take to go over the syllabus, class expectations, and introductions. Typically, I would plan all those activities to fit into 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time left in the class period to start Chapter 1. However, we all know the reality of first day time management – if we are lucky, we get through the introductions, syllabus, and course expectations. In fact, students count on this reality, calling the first day “Syllabus Day,” meaning nothing really happens.

Last summer while attending my first HAPS conference in Atlanta I met some wonderful people, and heard about what others did in their courses. Specifically, I learned how Brian Reid and other lab TAs from Georgia State University had lab syllabus quizzes that students had to complete in order to unlock other lab quizzes. In a workshop, Wendy Riggs shared her experiences making lecture videos and the importance of showing your face in the video so students feel you are talking to them.

I took the ideas of Brian and Wendy and decided to combine them to make an online syllabus video with an accompanying syllabus quiz. In my video (see screen shot below) I have three windows which I record through a full screen capture.

Screen Shot of a Syllabus Video
Screen Shot of a Syllabus Video

One window is a recording of myself (my least favorite part); a second window shows the course online platform (in my school’s case Canvas) so I can demonstrate where to access homework assignments, or view grades; and the third window has the syllabus document, which I walk through explaining everything from my office hours and contact information, to the course objectives, and the course policies (on attendance, homework grading, etc.). Accompanying the video is a 5-point online quiz, and the questions are written so that students need to look through the entire syllabus to find the answers. The quiz is set up for unlimited attempts, with no time limit, but it is graded all or nothing – students either get all the questions correct or they get a “0.” The last encouragement I give students is extra credit. One week before classes start, Canvas becomes available to all students; I send out an email to my students providing instructions on how to log on to Canvas and access the course. In this email I outline the first couple of assignments, including the syllabus quiz, which are due the second day of class. If students complete the syllabus quiz prior to the first day of class and they answer all the questions correctly, they can earn double points.

After making a syllabus video and assigning a syllabus quiz for a couple of semesters I have found that students tend to be readier on the first day as they have “met” me through the video, there is less anxiety because they know the format of the course, and much of the troubleshooting related to access to the online course page or getting the right textbook, etc, has already been dealt with. Having this assignment sent out before the start of class also helps me identify which students are not checking their school emails on a regular basis or are unable to log on to Canvas. By going over the syllabus before the start of class, I now have more time on the first day to start content related activities and utilize as much time as possible covering material.

While making these videos has increased my anxiety (e.g. is that really what I sound like?), the benefits make it worthwhile.

Post from Shanna Nifoussi, Ph.D, Assistant Professor in the School of Applied Science in the Natural and Applied Science Department at Mount Ida College in Newton, Massachusetts.

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