Motivate Students to Read your Course Outline

Your course outline should be a document that students return to for guidance throughout your course. Davis (2009) offers some suggestions for motivating students to read your course outline (pages 34-35):

  •  Highlight information of most interest to students. Not surprisingly, students do not attend equally to all information in a syllabus. When queried, students indicate that they pay most attention to information about exams and assignments (the dates, formats, and length), the reading list, and the course schedule and activities. Further, differences exist among new and continuing students, with new first-semester students more interested in prerequisites and available support services. (Becker and Calhoon, 1999; Garavalia et al., 1999; Smith and Razzouk, 1993, as cited in Davis [2009]).
  • Place the syllabus in the coursepack or reader. Besides distributing an online or print version, consider placing a hard copy of the syllabus in the coursepack so that students won't lose it and can refer to it easily during the term. Ask students to tape the calendar portion of the syllabus to their textbook. One faculty member takes the schedule of readings and dates for exams and assignments to class with a roll of tape. He passes out both and asks students to tape the abbreviated syllabus to the inside of the textbook. (Smith, 1993, as cited in Davis [2009]).
  • Consider giving students a short quiz or assignment on the syllabus. Some faculty test students on the information in the syllabus, giving extra credit to students who score above a certain threshold or weighting the quiz the same as problem sets. One faculty member asks students to write a paragraph about their expectations for the course, given what they know about themselves as learners. He also asks students to identify those aspects of the course they are looking forward to and those aspects they have concerns about. This assignment is the basis of small-group discussion in the next class session. (Hammons and Shock, 1994; Raymark and Connor-Greene, 2002, as cited in Davis [2009]).
  • Go over important information orally in class. Highlight for students the most critical information in the syllabus. Let them know how to use the syllabus effectively. Revisit the syllabus throughout the term, in print or online, as information becomes more relevant. For example, before assignments are due, restate the penalties for late work. (Grunert O'Brien et al., 2008, as cited in Davis [2009]). 
  • Experiment with a student-written syllabus. One faculty member used the first sessions of class to work with students in an English composition class to design their own syllabus. The syllabus included mutually agreed-on outcomes students wanted to achieve, policies on grading and attendance, and in-class and out-of-class activities. Another faculty member tossed his syllabus, began class with only a tentative set of readings for the first few weeks, and evolved the syllabus in partnership with students over the course of the term. Check with your department to see if any university policies prevent this. (Dahlin, 1994; Singham, 2005, as cited in Davis [2009]).

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