Saving students with a syllabus

Everybody expects the first week of classes to be generally laid back. We assume that because all we are going to do is get the syllabus and leave, we will have almost unlimited free time. But Monday, in that first class, reality sets in. We get handed the syllabus and what was supposed to be a light introduction quickly becomes a serious lecture and 100 pages of reading due Wednesday.

On top of early assignments, students have to deal with changing classes and getting textbooks. Possibly the worst part of that first week is realizing that three of your classes have midterms and 20 page papers all due on the same day. Now you have to reschedule the semester, desperately searching for a class that somebody else decided wasn’t manageable and had to drop.

While it may be impossible to create a problem-free first week, GW could help students with this transition. Simply making it mandatory for professors to post their syllabi on BlackBoard one week before classes could really make a difference. Most of these are written well in advance of the class anyway and are not difficult to simply post. It would be good for students to know if the schedule they selected is actually manageable.

An added benefit would be aiding students who wish to shop around for books in advance. Although the bookstore has a pretty comprehensive system for required books, it is not perfect and some professors require books not even offered by the book store. The added week could allow students to find the best deals. Making the syllabus a mandatory posting would be a simple accommodation that could seriously help students transition into the semester.