On the first day of class, or sometimes sooner, the syllabus
will be made available to you. Read it thoroughly. Of all the documents you
will get in a course, the syllabus is perhaps the most under-appreciated. Not
only is the schedule in the syllabus, all of the class rules and expectations
are there also. What, if any, are the prerequisites for the course? What is the
name of the required text (and other materials)? What are the course
objectives, and what should you learn? How often must you log in to the course?
Does the professor take late work or not? What do you do if you miss an exam,
and what (if any) are acceptable reasons for submitting late work or taking a
make-up exam? What accommodations are offered for students with learning
disabilities? Are there discussion boards in the LMS (learning management
system – e.g., Blackboard, Moodle, Angel, etc.), and if so, how frequently are
posts required? How will you be graded? How long after your work is submitted
should you expect to get feedback and a grade? What work is due, when is it due
and how should it be submitted?
All these questions and more are answered by the syllabus. Here
is a really great idea – keep all the syllabi you get, from every course you
take. Why? Someday you may transfer schools, or go to graduate school at
another institution. When I applied to my MBA program, the university had
various prerequisites that I had to show that I had satisfied. For example, I
had to have taken a statistics class. Since I had majored in business, that
wasn’t a problem, but then I found that they wanted to know that my business
statistics class had certain specific key learning outcomes. Did it contain
certain elements of inferential and descriptive statistics, or just one type?
Having kept my syllabus from that undergraduate statistics class, it was easy
to see what I had taken and what aspects of stats I had been exposed to. The
same types of questions were asked about a couple of other courses I had taken.
Having the syllabus from courses I had taken saved me from having to take (and
pay for!) several courses prior to admission to graduate school. My daughter is
in college now, and scans all of her important documents into her computer as
pdf files so she will have them when she needs them.
One thing most instructors put into their syllabi is a
caveat that the course schedule is subject to change. For that reason, do not
take it on faith that the course schedule will remain as it was written. Be
alert. When you log into Blackboard, look for announcements that will tell you
if things have changed or are changing. Knowing that the assignment due date or
exam date has changed is your responsibility. Another good idea is to create a
master calendar with the key due-dates for all your classes. That way, you will
never miss a deadline. Take a look at all your classes and assignments. Do you
think you will need tutoring for any of your classes? We provide a service
called Smarthinking here at Fort Hays State for our online students. Don’t wait
until the last minute to get access. Allow at least a week to get everything
done, including the sign-up process. A good time to get started with whatever
tutoring service you may use is the first week of class. That way you will have
access when you need it.
I’ll close this article with another thing we’ve discussed
previously. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get to know your
professor. If your professor recognizes your name when he or she gets a post or
email, things just go better. Make contact early in the course. Ask for help sooner
rather than later. If you have questions about anything in the course –
assignments, the work itself, projects, whatever – do not wait to get answers.
As an instructor, I sometimes get emails on Friday afternoon wanting to know
what to do with a major assignment that is due that night. I typically make
assignments due at 11:59 p.m. the day they are due. Waiting until the day the
assignment is due to ask about it? Not a good idea.
Best of luck to you as you begin your new semester. If we
can help in any way, don’t hesitate to contact us!
The Virtual College