Fall is the traditional start of the academic year, so as we approach that mark it may be a good time to think about ways to tweak our course syllabus in ways that may promote student success. There are some "teaching moments" in a syllabus that we don't want to miss!
I have few suggestions for you to consider.
ChunkingExperts call it excessive cognitive load and I say it's just plain rude to put all your policies, procedures, advice, and explanations in one or two big lumps, then expect students to actually read it and be familiar with the contents.
Go ahead and get it all down there—then chunk it by dividing it up into short sections, each with a short, descriptive heading. Next, rearrange all your newly chunked sections into logical groupings with a short descriptive heading. Now students will more likely read through it all, comprehend it better, and be more likely to refer to the syllabus before emailing you with their questions that can easily be answered by the syllabus.
DeadlinesWe often blame it on which generation's pesonality they are ruled by—X, Y, millenial, baby-boomer—but I think it's just human nature to miss deadlines when you are unaware of the effects of doing that.
A syllabus is a good place to establish deadlines in a course, of course, but it's also a great place to briefly explain why deadlines are important. You may want to get some ideas from this brief article—or simply link to the article from your syllabus:
Academic IntegrityThe most effective deterrent against academic dishonesty—cheating—is to promote a culture of honesty in your course. The syllabus is a great way to get that on the right footing at the outset. Here's an example from one of my syllabi, in a chunked section titled Academic Integrity:
This course relies on the principle that all who participate will do so with the honesty befitting adult, professional studies. Without integrity of all students, the integrity of the course, this school, and your own credentials all suffer. This means that all students are expected to submit only their own work, whether for assignments, papers, online tests or quizzes, in-class tests or quizzes, or any other component of this course. Thus, students may not receive inappropriate help nor give inappropriate help to other students.
SCC academic integrity policies outlined in the
Student Handbook and other documents stipulate a variety of possible outcomes of violation of principles of basic academic integrity.
In this course, receiving or giving inappropriate help in online tests, in-class exams, or assignments will ordinarily result in receiving "F" for the course. Inappropriate help may include having someone do all or part of the work for you, providing or receiving copies of current in-class exam items or answers to in-class exam items, and copying someone else's work and submitting it as your own.
Students who witness or have reason to suspect violations of academic integrity in this course and do not report it promptly, thus further enabling the dishonesty, will themselves also be subject to disciplinary action.
I strongly suggest that you read the brief article Why be honest?Feel free to adapt this (perhaps shorten it a bit?) for your own syllabus. Or use this link— my-ap.us/zHHd7H —in your syllabus to simply send them directly to an article that explains it all.
Minor imperfections further enhance the handcrafted uniqueness of this document.It's a joke, right? Well, sort of. It's actually true, and so it is fair warning that there are bound to be mistakes in my syllabus. But it's also lighthearted enough to set the light, informal tone that improves student engagement and openness to a new instructor and a new course.
For more ideas like this, check out Professors are from Mars, Students are from Snickers: How to Write and Deliver Humor in the Classroom and in Professional Presentations by Ronald A. Berk (Stylus Publishing, 2003)
TerminologyStudents in the anatomy and physiology course are likely to learn more new "foreign" words than they would in a beginning Spanish, French, or German course. So it's important to set that fact out there early, so that students can get a handle on that aspect of A&P from the get-go.
Besides a brief statement about the need to learn a new language in the syllabus, I've found it helpful to link to (or embed) these resources:
- Terminology for A&P my-ap.us/1rny2u4
- International Terminology for A&P my-ap.us/1k1oeHi
- Flash Cards: Reducing Your Study Time my-ap.us/1mQnT5b
- Terminology Resources for A&P @The A&P Student my-ap.us/fsboS2
Spelling is ImportantYour peritoneum is not your perineum, right? And in a medical chart, that could get through all the checks and alerts even in today's "smart" electronic environment. I, for one, am not willing to put my life—or my perineum—in the hands of a medical spell-checker. So it's important that A&P students learn that an incorrectly spelled term term is an incorrect term.
I suggest spelling that out (pardon the pun) in the course syllabus. Because not all instructors "take off for spelling," it may unnecessarily shock your students when misspelled terms are not accepted at all in A&P. If they know ahead of time that correct spelling of scientific terms is part of the course, they'll be more accepting of the idea and—even better—prepared for it.
Consider adding a link to the article Is Spelling Important? to your syllabus:
Renting or Borrowing BooksYou may have trouble buying this one, I realize, but I can't tell you how many of my former A&P students have sold back their A&P textbook, or returned their rented book, or lent it out on permanent loan to a friend or relative. And then regretted it. Why? Because they need it for their health professions courses—and even in their jobs. A good A&P textbook is not just a learning tool for use in the A&P course, it's a valuable addition to their own professional reference library.
I usually add a phrase like this to the list of required books and manuals for my courses:
Don't rent your A&P text book! Click here for the reasons.
And don't sell it back at the end of the course. Here's why.Here are the URLs if you want to use a similar approach—and save some students a bit of heartache when they realize they've lost a valuable resource they'll need later:
Rental URL my-ap.us/1rJKmHg
Sell-back URL my-ap.us/mhYggB
You may not agree with this approach. Or perhaps your school rents or lends textbooks to all students and you can't officially go against that in your syllabus. But it's an idea worth considering if you have the latitude to advise your students in this manner—and the insight to see the value of such advice.
The A&P StudentLastly, there are a lot of A&P-specific study tips, tools, and advice available FREE for your students at my blog for students called The A&P Student.
Photo credit: Handcraft