The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning's Illinois Summer Teaching Institute [ISTI] provided a good excuse to think harder about syllabi: what they do, what they don't do, what's stupid about them, etc. It was a lot of fun to take some of the ideas and put them into a syllabus for Fall 2021. I'm only teaching the undergraduate game theory course, so there wasn't much debate about which syllabus to work on. You can find the syllabus here.
Some highlights, just in case future versions of myself wonder why I did some of the things I did.
It Helps If You Say What the Class is About
Good lord, my previous syllabi were awful about this. Why are we obfuscating things? Why not be clear about what the topic is? That's worth a page, I think. Maybe two! Maybe three!
I thought it would be fun to mimic the syllabus lookiloos' window-shopping with a little window effect. But, I need to learn more about wrapping text around holes [or more traditional images!].
It Helps If You Tell Them How They Will Be Evaluated
Good lord, my previous syllabi were also awful about this. WHY ARE WE OBFUSCATING THINGS?! WHY NOT BE CLEAR WHAT THE GRADING IS ALL ABOUT?!
To wit, why not tell them what they can expect to see on the final?!
Then again, it's easier to commit to a final rubric when you've taught the class a time or two.
It Helps If You Don't Try to Create Fake Nuance
If the goal of a problem set is to make sure that students are slowly accumulating skills, then why not just make sure you're rewarding them for doing so? Why act like getting a perfect score is more important than just getting a good understanding? And if you're using "perfect scores" to make sure students keep pushing themselves, why not just create a separate incentive structure to reward excellence? The CITL-ISTI presentations on formative assessment were really great to that end.
It Helps If You Tell Them When Things Will Happen
This is yet another thing my old syllabi were awful about. Make the calendar decisions and stick to them. It's not fair to do otherwise.
So that's that—maybe there are some tricks you can steal for your own zany syllabi.