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Course Syllabus, Evaluation, & Course Materials

I mentioned the course syllabus earlier.  Read it.  Make sure you understand it.  Does it give clues to the approach being taken by your prof?  Does it indicate whether they are going to be lackadaisical about due dates or if they are going to be super strict?  What are the required course materials (textbook, course pack, etc.)?  Personally, I feel so strongly about the syllabus that I have questions about it in my tests and exams and award marks for those students that have read it.  Some of your profs may do the same.  Certainly, if you approach them and ask questions that are answered plainly in the syllabus you can be certain that a little footnote of “annoying” will go against your name.  Is that something you want?

The most important part of the syllabus is the section that describes the evaluation or assessment scheme.  You need to know in detail what is required and by what day and time and by what delivery method.  Some profs are real sticklers about day and time.  One minute late and it’s no good.  Others will be a little more forgiving.  Unfortunately, you do not know which kind of prof you have in advance so you would do best to assume that if it’s a minute late it’s unacceptable.  When I talk about delivery method I am referring to whether it must be submitted in their office, in class, to the department, posted to the class website, or whatever.  You need to know this in order to comply.  It may feel a little demeaning but you may as well start to believe that your prof is the emperor (or empress) in your course and their word is law.

One of the most important things you will do with the list of evaluations for any given course is to write it down in a place where you can put all your course evaluations.  This means that you will have a place where all of your assignments, essays, labs, tests, etc. are visible all together so that you can see when some of them coincide in time.  That is the only way you are going to be able to plan your time.  For example, the week depicted in Figure 2 probably means that you are going to have to bail on Game Night unless you know well in advance that you have two assignments due the next day.


Another thing that the course syllabus will tell you is if there are materials that you require.  In most cases this will be a textbook but sometime other materials are also necessary.  In many cases the text is going to feel like a very expensive item, often running into the hundreds of dollars.  While you might try approaching your prof to determine how necessary the text might be, in most cases if it’s listed in the syllabus s/he is going to be annoyed that you are asking.  There are two approaches that I recommend.  One is to consider how much you are paying for your university education.  What percentage of your tuition and living costs does the text represent?  After all, if you were training to be a chef you would have to purchase knives and utensils.  If you were training to be a plumber it would be wrenches and welding equipment.  Get the idea?  If your job is being a student then you might just have to get the tools for the job!  Another approach to expensive texts is to find a sharing agreement.  Find someone who is in your class who might be willing to share the cost and share the text.  They could also become a study buddy.  You get to cut the price of the text in half, you get to share your understanding of the content with another person (and possibly correct misunderstandings), and possibly develop one of your first friendships in university. 



Want to know more?

Bronner, S.J. (2012). Campus traditions: Folklore from the old-time college to the modern mega-university. University Press of Mississippi. Jackson, MS, USA.  Although this is a very USA-centric view it still contains a lot of traditions and customs that apply to universities around the world.

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