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With over half the semester completed, instructors are now in a good position to review their syllabi. How well does it serve the goals of the class? What elements  could use revision? What might you want to add to future syllabi? Today’s post will run through course policies you may want to adjust based on your teaching experience this semester.

  • Academic integrity
    • Whether or not you have experienced any issues with students cheating, plagiarizing, or otherwise compromising the honesty of their work in your course, consider whether your policy on the syllabus is clear enough to confront them. A clearly written policy not only provides you with the opportunity to hold the student accountable, but also prevents miscommunication or misunderstanding among your students as to what their responsibilities are. Although such a policy is meant to check dishonest behavior, it can be helpful to frame it in positive rather than negative terms. Academic integrity is more than a set of rules that should not be contravened; it is more importantly a positive good that contributes to the well-being of the student and the life of the mind. Consult Notre Dame’s honor code for reference.
  • Accommodations for students with disabilities
    • Students must register with Sara Bea Disability Services to request specific accommodations. Directions for requesting accommodations may be found here; sharing this information with your students gives them the resources they need to succeed in your classroom without creating additional work for yourself. The Kaneb Center has written about this in more detail here.
  • Use of Technology in Classroom
    • If you have found the use of laptops or phones disruptive to your classroom, consider adding a Technology Use policy to your syllabus. Because many students depend on their computers for note-taking and studying, they need to be prepared ahead of time for a classroom environment that explicitly excludes those kinds of technology. Even if your policy prohibits the use of laptops, avoid framing it in a purely negative. As with the Academic Integrity policy, you want students to see this as part of a positive vision you have for their education.
  • Student Recording of Class
    • As with computers, some students rely on this method for note-taking and study purposes. Decide if you are comfortable with this or not, and incorporate it into your technology policy. You can also consider mentioning it in your disabilities statement, since this may be part of a student’s accommodations.
  • Grading Policies
    • Ideally, the grading policy you put in your syllabus should allow you to navigate any issues that arise with your students. But if you’ve had some disputes or even just simple confusion, think about incorporating more specific grading rubrics in your statement. You can also use this space  to let the students know what they need to do to succeed in this class.
    • If you are unsatisfied with student attendance this semester, take time to include an attendance policy in your statement on grading. Be clear about the effect unexcused absences will have on the final grade. See more about this here.
  • Support for Students’ Well-Being
    • Life as an undergraduate is affected by a myriad of things you may or may not know about, from family tragedies, to medical complications, to the mundane but taxing reality of stress. Encourage your students to take care of themselves, and remind them of the University’s counseling services. Emphasize that if they are having difficulty with the class that they can come to office hours for advice and help on how to study and complete your assignments.

In conclusion, don’t let your experiences this semester go to waste! Now is the time to take notes on what is and is not working for your class so you can improve the next time you teach it. You may want to make updates or clarifications to your current syllabus, but this is an especially good time to make notes for future semesters.

The Kaneb Center has additional resources on how to create policy sheets and statements for syllabi here and here. See additional blog posts here and here for related reading.

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