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Sep 02 2016
by Madeleine Williamson

Professors Get Creative with Syllabi To Get Students to Prove They're Reading it

By Madeleine Williamson - Sep 02 2016
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It’s syllabus week for many students. It's nice to coast along in the ease of getting introduced to classes. But are we reading those syllabi? If the answer is no, your professor may be onto you, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported Thursday.

Last year, Columbia professor Joseph Howley buried an “Easter egg” in the syllabus. He suspected that freshmen seldom read it. So he assigned students to email him pictures of the 80s TV character Alf as proof they had. Few did, but his Tweet went viral - and inspired other professors.

"On the first day of school, for the most part, they are basically still high-school students. I would rather write a syllabus speaking to the college students I want them to be than the high-school students they are," Howley said in the Chronicle of the logic behind his trick. Long and tedious though it may be, the syllabus is important, he said.

Ivy Tech Community College professor pulled a similar trick last spring. In her syllabus, she asked students to email her a picture of a dinosaur. She said she preferred it to heavier-handed techniques like a quiz over the syllabus. Her results? No dinosaurs, she Tweeted.

Yet some professors aren’t fans of tricky syllabi. Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne professor Damian Fleming doubts the value of a syllabus at all. “The syllabus is only really written for students who don’t want to take my class, who don’t want to do the work," he said.

So read your syllabi this year - your professors may be watching.

Lead image credit: Samantha Celera on Flickr Creative Commons.

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Madeleine Williamson - DePaul University

Madeleine Williamson is a freshman at DePaul University majoring in journalism and minoring in political science and Spanish. She loves tea, stationery and exploring her new hometown of Chicago.

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