All the syllabi for Williams classes should be posted online, linked to directly from the relevant page in the course catalog. Background reading here:

This report, “Opening Up the Classroom: Greater Transparency through Better, More Accessible Course Information,” by Jay Schalin, proposes a way to improve the transparency and accountability of colleges and universities. It recommends that faculty be required to post their course syllabi—the descriptions that go beyond the sketchy catalog summaries—on the Internet, with access open to the public.

The report also recommends that posting should occur when registration opens for the next term’s classes, typically two to five months before that term begins, so that students can use the information for course selection. It proposes that the syllabi for all courses be available at a single Web site.

The posted syllabi need not be the full documents, with complete schedules, that are used in class. But at the very least each syllabus should offer a detailed class description and a full list of reading selections.

There are four important reasons for posting such documents on the Web. These are: to aid students as they register for courses, to expose a professor’s deviation from normal expectations or acceptable academic standards, to aid in pedagogical research and information sharing, and to make comparisons between classes at different universities easier for the determination of transfer credits.

This report explores these reasons and responds to objections. It discusses two posting systems, one at the University of Washington and one at Duke University, that go a long way to informing students and the public of what really goes on in the classroom.

Great stuff. Read the whole thing. Previous EphBlog discussion here.

If I were on the Committee on Educational Policy at Williams, I would propose a rule whereby Williams faculty are expected to submit to the registrar a copy of the syllabus for their classes in exactly the same way that they are expected to submit a course description. Details:

1) The analog is the new (last fall) requirement that the College provide textbook details. Given that professors have to tell the registrar what books they are assigning, it is easy to tell them to also send a copy of the syllabus.

2) Centralizing this in the registrar’s office is easiest for all concerned, except, of course, for Charlie Toomajian. Every single Williams professor keeps a copy of her syllabus in electronic form on her computer. It may be too much to ask her to post this somewhere publicly. But there is no excuse for her not being willing to e-mail a copy to the registrar. Also, having the registrar handle this means that we will get a historical archive for free. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see syllabi from 25 years ago? We can’t now, but we should change Williams policy so that this will be possible in the future.

3) There are no copyright concerns since professors can retain whatever copyright or other entitlements they want.

4) A typical instructor (like me!) loves to tweak his syllabus as the start of the semester approaches. No worries! Just send the registrar a new version whenever you want to. Again, this is a bother for the registrar’s office, but the easier we can make this for faculty, the more likely we are to get it done. (The registrar would only be expected to maintain the latest version.)

The more transparent that Williams is with every aspect of the high quality education that it offers, the more likely we are to attract the best students, maintain the highest standards and generate a wonderful reputation. Online syllabi are a small but meaningful step in the right direction.

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