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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
May 28, 2015
Canadian Excellence

Course Syllabi: Learning in a Nutshell

Jeanette McDonald and Sandy Hughes of Teaching Support Services are collaborating with Deena Mandell of the Faculty of Social Work and Gillian Siddall of Lakehead University to examine the content and use of course syllabi at each of our respective universities.

Specifically, the project aims to add to and extend the literature base on course syllabi by assessing not only what faculty include, but also what students attend to most during the term and how they use and experience faculty use of syllabi in their courses. With a growing focus on curricular development, program review, and quality teaching and learning, we also intend to examine the quality and orientation (student vs. instructor-focused) of stated learning objectives, recognizing that “students can better master their own learning when they know what the expectations are for that learning” (Parkes, Fix & Harris, 2003, p. 76).  Finally, our project will explore two other elements not fully addressed in the existing literature: the differences between syllabi designed for undergraduate and graduate courses and differences in syllabi across disciplines.  

The project has the following intended outcomes.

  1. determine how students use and experience faculty use of syllabi in their courses, accounting for differences in student gender, age, and cultural background
  2. identify what faculty include in their syllabi and how they represent and communicate their conceptualization of learning
  3. identify what students attend to most in syllabi and if what they attend to changes during the term
  4. identify if and how syllabi content differs by degree status (undergraduate/graduate), program standing (first year/senior student), discipline, institution, level of faculty teaching experience, and faculty’s gender
  5. compare Laurier and Lakehead data with available research/reports on syllabi
  6. use findings to support a number of curricular and programming initiatives at the course/program/department/faculty levels

Findings to be disseminated as follows:

  1. educational/instructional development programming (e.g., course design institute, workshops, consultations)
  2. presentations, workshops, posters at teaching and learning and discipline-specific conferences (e.g., Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Educational Developers Conference)
  3. resources prepared for workshops/websites/presentations
  4. articles prepared for teaching and learning newsletters and journals
  5. an executive summary to department chairs who review course syllabi, faculty deans and curriculum committees
This project is funded by Laurier's Instructional Development Grant Program and the Educational Developers Caucus of the Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Grant Program.

For more information about this project, please contact:

Wilfrid Laurier University
Jeanette Mcdonald, Manager of Educational Development (519.884.0710, ext. 3211)

Sandy Hughes, Director of Teaching Support Services (519.884.0710, ext. 4104)

Deena Mandell, Associate Professor: Faculty of Social Work (519.884.0710, ext. 5239)

Lakehead University

Gillian Siddall, Director of Instructional Development and Associate Professor Department of English (807.343.8440)