Requiring professors to make their syllabi publicly available on the web could draw a backlash from educators who see the document as their intellectual property, while universities and Texas legislators demand greater transparency in curriculum, lesson plans, and textbooks.
Many college professors and instructors post their course descriptions and syllabi voluntarily to the campus website. This, experts said, gives students a better idea of what to expect from the course and could cut down on the number of class spots that are added and dropped at the start of every semester.
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A handful of institutions, including Duke University, the University of Washington (UW), and Fayetteville State University in North Carolina have online syllabus systems, with varying levels of compliance.
Texas lawmakers in 2008 unanimously passed a first-of-its-kind law requiring all public colleges and universities to make syllabi available on the internet in fewer than three clicks from the institution’s homepage.
Course information, under the Texas law, must be more extensive than the class overview available to students as they peruse a college’s website and register for the following semester. The law requires publicly-available syllabi to include “the learning objectives for the course,” “a general description of the subject matter of each lecture,” and required readings.
Giving students a more comprehensive look at a semester’s lesson plans and readings, educators said, should be a goal for colleges with state-of-the-art websites. Giving away professorial keys to success, however, could stall efforts to make every syllabus available on the web.
“It’s good for the students who want to pick and choose their course and professor, but a nightmare for the university,” said Jean Coppola, associate professor of IT at Pace University in New York. “I think it’s good that the syllabus is posted for the most part, but there are exceptions. What about professors who have award-winning courses, and their syllabus was unique?”