An Exploratory Study on the Purpose, Structure, Format and Use of Syllabi at a Midwest Four-Year Undergraduate Private University
Fink, Susan Jo Breakenridge
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The purpose of this study was to explore how instructors at a mid-sized Midwest four-year undergraduate private university view the purpose, structure, format and use of their course syllabi. The theory of structural functionalism and a quantitative research approach were employed. A group administration approach was used to distribute the paper surveys during college, school or department meetings. It was found that the syllabi purposes that instructors viewed as essential and useful were: a Communication Mechanism, a Planning Tool for Instructors, a Course Plan for Students, and a Contract. The instructors refer to syllabi for (1) schedule/calendar/assignments, (2) policies, (3) as a reminder, (4) for grading, and (5) for expectations. The top ranked components by instructors were Academic Honesty; Plagiarism/Cheating; Textbook(s) & ISBN; Calendar/Outline/Assignments; Instructor Expectations of the Students; Requirements for Homework, Etc.; Grading Scale; Disability Services; Objectives; Academic Conduct; Goals; Attendance; Assessment Criteria; Makeup & Late Assignments; and Disclaimer on Syllabus. Over 60% indicated they learned to create their syllabi through unofficial templates and informally through previous experience as a student. And all instructors indicated that syllabi have either no effect (27.0%) or a positive effect (67.5%) on student learning. The purpose of a syllabus as a part of the structure and function of the higher education system will differ depending on the role of the person using it. As institutions continue to adjust to accreditation and the public’s demand for quality, the purpose and function of the syllabus will continue to change and adjust. An initial step to assist in this process of change would be to provide instructor workshops and training sessions related to syllabi design.
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