Imagine yourself in this scenario. You’re a first-year, or perhaps a second-year, at the University of Maine. The time for class registration is here. You’ve constructed your wishlist according to what your recommended sequence says you should take. You have room for one more class, and you think you should fill a general education requirement. You can’t decide between two classes and aren’t particularly sure if you’d enjoy either. All you have to go off of is a course description, which may or may not accurately reflect the course. It certainly doesn’t tell you what kind of work you’ll be doing or what you’ll be reading.
Consider, now, another scenario. You’re a new professor at the university. They’ve brought you in to replace a professor on a course. You don’t have any contact with the old one. The department gives you some semblance of an idea of how the course should work. You’re left to figure out the rest on your own. You don’t have any frame of reference for how the class was conducted in the previous semester.
A logical solution to these issues faced by both the theoretical professor and student is a syllabus bank, also known as a syllabus repository. A syllabus bank is an online database where students and faculty can go and look at syllabi for prior semesters. Students can get a feel for how a certain professor operates and what kind of assignments they can expect. This provides a much clearer idea of what a course entails than the descriptions, which can sometimes be inaccurate. Students can also find what materials they may be expected to buy. This also allows access to specialized reading lists for students conducting research. Professors can get a sense of how their colleagues are running courses and also if they happen to be an advisor, help their students make better-informed decisions.
Luckily, this exact project is currently being pushed for. Jacob Chaplin, Vice President of Student Leadership for UMaine Student Government Inc., and other members of UMSG have begun the process of pushing for this to be created. There’s a clear precedent, with this being implemented at peer schools such as UConn and also required by law in Florida and Texas. Right now, the project group is meeting with campus stakeholders to discuss the project and to figure out the path forward that works best for everyone.
As for expectations on professors, Chaplin states that participation in the bank would be “voluntary but encouraged.”
The only potential drawback is that syllabi are considered intellectual property by the professors. Care would need to be taken to ensure that the system is accessible only to people within the UMaine system. There would likely be a required log-in and an acceptable use policy stating that the information is not to be redistributed.
“There needs to be work done on the UMSG side to encourage professors to submit syllabi,” Chaplin said. “What makes it easier is that we have reached out to admin assistants within departments, and every department collects syllabi internally.”
Any student, UMSG affiliated or not, can get involved in two main ways. The big one is filling out the survey the team uses to collect their data. This is crucial in helping determine student opinion. You can also get involved in the project team and participate in stakeholder meetings. For more information on this or any questions about the project, please email Jacob Chaplin at firstname.lastname@example.org.