Rules are fine but a plethora of prohibitions dampen the motivation to learn. Cell phone policies are a great example. Students also report that if the instructor asks them to stop using the phone they will, at that time, but will continue to use the phone in that and other courses. Think more like a map and less like a contract. The contract syllabus makes clear what the student is obligated to provide. Does it also list what the professor will provide? Do students get to offer any input?
Do they have any recourse? How effectively do contracts motivate learning? Maps are helpful, full of all kinds of useful information. The syllabus can make you a better teacher. There it is, all together in one place. How does it look? How well does it all hang together?
As You’re Preparing the Syllabus . . .
Where does it start and end? Share it with a colleague and ask what he or she would conclude about the course and instructor if all they had to go on was the syllabus. Better yet, ask students. Effect of syllabus tone: Several authors have stated that syllabi function as an implicit contract between students and the university. Research indicates that students often fail to review the syllabus, refer to it sparingly, and are unable to recall basic information contained within it. Some authors and university websites explicitly state a syllabus is a contract between the professor and students.
While there may not be harm in thinking a syllabus is a contract, there may be legal risk in proclaiming it so. Under the doctrine of estoppel, faculty members who verbalize that their syllabi are contracts risk having them treated as such. Estoppel is the principle that precludes a person from asserting something contrary to what is implied by a previous action or statement of that person or by a previous judicial determination.
With regard to educational malpractice, while most states do not recognize the tort of educational malpractice, most recognize a breach of contract action if it is alleged that the educational institution failed to perform on a specific promise it made in handbooks or bulletins. As in Yarchaski, it is the arbitrary and capricious standard of conduct that the Supreme Court has applied when reviewing university conduct in dismissing students for academic or behavioral reasons.
Traditionally, great deference is given to university decisions. In these cases, courts are more likely to allow the lawsuit to proceed. Syllabi are learning tools that memorialize the course requirements, serving as both a permanent record for the benefit of accrediting bodies and faculty reviews.
Even the most experienced faculty member can identify problems encountered to bring a process of continuous quality improvement to course syllabi, resulting in syllabi that are more focused on achieving their goals with clear, consistent policies. Moreover, applying best practices to syllabi development can both improve document clarity and minimize the risks of student grievances or involvement with litigious students. While the few courts that have considered the issue concluded that a syllabus does not constitute a contract, and it is risky to proclaim a syllabus is a contract, it may actually be beneficial to treat syllabi as such.
Although syllabi are not considered to be legal documents, it is good practice for professors to treat them as such and construct them using principles of clear contract drafting with a focus on avoiding educational malpractice. One need not be an attorney to develop this expertise. Table 1 lists some best practices for creation of legally sound syllabi.
However, their focus is usually on review of course proposals, evaluating courses, learning objectives, expected student competencies, and assessments. A faculty member certainly should adhere to any syllabi format and content standardization at their particular institution such as mapping course learning outcomes to the most current ACPE ie, standards. Syllabi should provide students with the specificity they need to help them complete their work with a full understanding of what is expected of them.
As You’re Preparing the Syllabus. . .
For example, if use of cell phones is prohibited, the syllabus should also specify whether that includes texting. This level of detail should be specified to avoid later disputes. A syllabus must have a clear grading policy that is adhered to throughout the semester. This not only puts students at ease by informing them of what is required for success in the course, but also allows the professor to refer to it when students come in with complaints.
In addition to becoming the first line of defense for the faculty member, stating a clear grading policy in the syllabus will also eliminate many student complaints. When it is clear the syllabus will be followed, students will not waste time lobbying for special circumstances and the professor will immunize herself from charges of favoritism or unfairness in grading. If an instructor intends to round up grades, he should state in the syllabus how this will be done. The student assents to the course policies by virtue of enrollment in the course.
Nothing prevents the professor from providing more detailed information in separate documents during the conduct of the course where academic freedom should prevail and protect the interests of the faculty member. Sometimes the syllabus is either obtrusive or unclear or important policies are omitted. That is, the syllabus is silent with regard to some course information. Sometimes changes are needed but they may not always be permissible. Some universities do not permit changes to the syllabus once it is made available to students. Students adversely affected by changes to the syllabus made later in the semester, for example, when an examination is dropped, the final examination is no longer given, or the grade weighting for an assignment is changed, may complain and grieve these actions.
However, in an article on a survey of faculty members and student perceptions regarding changes to the syllabi components once the semester begins, the results indicated that the majority of respondents preferred the syllabus be somewhat flexible rather than static. In addition to not making changes to the syllabi, two actions on the part of professors would help avoid problems. The first is the addition of language to the syllabus that states that it is merely a guide to the course and may be changed at the discretion of the professor.
This involves the addition of a clause which allows a party to suspend or terminate the performance if its obligations when certain circumstances arise that make performance inadvisable, impractical, or impossible, eg, natural disaster which results in class cancellation. The second is documentation of any changes to the syllabus announced orally. A brief email or post on the online course management and communication system used at the college eg, Blackboard directly after the class, stating the change, would suffice. Finally, to minimize inadequate performance, faculty members should avoid overpromising, such as stating examinations will be graded within a specific timeframe or emails will be answered within 24 hours.
Contracts are legally enforceable documents; syllabi are not. Syllabi have persisted in the culture of higher education and are foundational parts of the pharmacy curricula that encourage students to develop an acceptance of a lifelong responsibility for learning.
For decades, syllabi have been referred to in the literature as contracts between students and professors. In the handful of cases involving syllabi, the claims have been mostly for breach of contract. To date, courts have not recognized claims of breach of contract for syllabi and do not consider syllabi as contracts.
- The Course Syllabus: Legal Contract or Operator’s Manual?.
- Three things to leave off of your syllabus.
Students will continue to file lawsuits regarding syllabi and creating legally defensible syllabi can avoid time-consuming and expensive legal actions. A description of essential components of syllabi is beyond the scope of this article. However, best practices for developing legally sound syllabi include detailed precision regarding course requirements.
Like preventative medicine, early attention to the content and format of a course syllabus can prevent and mitigate subsequent complications. Faculty members embarking on the intellectual journey of creating syllabi, especially junior faculty members, can use the information provided in this article to evaluate, and possibly improve, their course syllabi.
National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Am J Pharm Educ. Received Sep 19; Accepted Feb Abstract A course syllabus provides a roadmap for pharmacy students to achieve course learning objectives and develop lifelong learning skills. REVIEW A literature search was conducted in relevant biomedical science and educational databases through November to examine the extent to which faculty members, students, and colleges view syllabi as contracts, and to find articles pertaining to syllabi-related problems.
Open in a separate window. Davis S, Schrader V. Comparison of syllabi expectations between faculty and students in a baccalaureate nursing program.
Scaling Up active learning to large courses and large spaces
Constructing the course syllabus: J Excel Coll Teach. The syllabus as a communication document: J Nurs Ed Pract. The promising syllabus enacted: Moving away from the authoritarian classroom. The syllabus as a tool for student-centered learning. The mathematics syllabus and adult learners in community colleges. Integrating technique with content.
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The Course Syllabus: Legal Contract or Operator’s Manual?
Matejka K, Kurke LB. Designing a great syllabus. Parkes J, Harris MB. The purposes of a syllabus. Uncovering the rhetoric of the syllabus. Accessed November 24, Accessed January 19, Research yields tips on crafting better syllabi. The 21 st -century syllabus: Practical Approaches to Individualizing and Structuring Learning. Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, et al, 2: Loyola University of New Orleans, So. Grier, WL , at 2 Ohio App. Accessed November 23,