Attaching quizzes, sample assignments, handouts, etc. to the core information of the syllabus seemed to change not only the length, but also the terminology used to refer to the compilation of these texts. The authors talked about a “syllabus package” or “syllabus packet,” which came very close to my own expression, “manual,” even though the additional information I included referred to procedures, such as workshop cycles, rather than assignments or quizzes. At this point, several questions arose. How would all this information, both essential and recommended, fit in a traditionally three-to-five-page-long syllabus? Would the information above this page limit be considered redundant and be discarded? How long would a text document be that includes all the essential and most of the recommended information about a course? If it reaches 20 plus pages and becomes a book-length document, could or should it still be called a syllabus or would it qualify as a new or different educational genre? If so, what would it be called? Course booklet? Course package—even though this term is used to denote something else? Information manual? Course guidelines? Moreover, how would it be delivered to students? As print or electronic material? Could students be expected to familiarize themselves with the content of the document in its entirety? Would students indeed “appreciate the effort [we] make in creating a truly useful syllabus” (UNC CTL)? Ultimately, isn’t the syllabus as a concept and educational genre outdated?
Arguments For and Against the Long Syllabus
Those who promoted a long syllabus claimed that students in an online course needed more details and more redundancy of information, since they did not have face-to-face contact with the instructor to remind them of policies and procedures (NEU EdTech). It was also pointed out that a long, detailed syllabus meant fewer questions and fewer emails from students during the course (UNC CTL). Others, however, warned that an attempt “to include every single item of importance in [the] syllabus is to insure that students will not read much of it” (Altman and Cashin).
After reading the pros and cons, I made an important discovery about my syllabi: Although they were electronic syllabi, posted on Blackboard in both my face-to-face and online courses, I did not utilize the possibilities embedded in the electronic environment. My syllabi remained MS Word documents, and, consequently, linear and text based. Making a file similar to a piece of paper available online is not only anachronistic, but an obvious sign of misusing and misunderstanding technology. The electronic environment provides a logical avenue to integrate multimedia applications into traditionally text-based documents. Instead of linearity, I had to think in layers of information and utilize the chunking of text. Converting the linear text into a non-linear, chunked website with multimedia applications made the document user-friendly and easily accessible.