What’s a Syllabus?

0 0 361
Amazing how quickly the break goes, right?  Here at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) we’ve been back since January 5 (we start so early!) so I’ve been thinking about syllabi and wondering just what a syllabus is (or might be) (or could be) (or should be). I’ve known some who consider the syllabus a contract and in fact implement some form of contract grading (à la Peter Elbow) and certainly here at FAU the syllabus is, in part, a bureaucratic instrument, filled with mandated statements to ensure compliance with various state and university policies.  But I think for me, a syllabus is something else, and I have been trying to figure out what that something else is. Centrally, I view a syllabus is an intellectual project.  It’s my chance to imagine, project, and describe this “class” I have in my head (the one that’s perfect and thus never happens).  I mull over each element, consider how one flows to the next, tweak this and that.  In some ways, I frontload my intellectual labor given how much time I spend designing the syllabus. Syllabi are also design projects for me, which is to say I use them as visual essays / arguments / statements about the class.  I spend a shocking amount of time just choosing the right font.  I also consider the layout, the typography, and images.  I want the design to say something about the class and its goals. So I guess I would say that for me a syllabus is like a mini-essay.  I am laying out a line of thinking about the issues of the class, carefully organized through each week, and I am inviting students as my readers to follow that argument. What exactly is a syllabus for you?
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.