Quick Reflection – Syllabus Bloat

Quick Reflection – Syllabus Bloat

October 17, 2018 2 By JR

Tell me, where can I find the “silly bus”?

Not my 9x9x25 post this week, but I just read Syllabus Bloat by James Skidmore, and was about to comment when I thought, ‘hey, I can just blog a quick reflection and hopefully it’ll ping back’. Honestly, I’ve been frustrated with blog commenting systems for a while now. Some require login, some eat my comments, so here…I’m reclaiming commenting.


It’s like James wrote this post for me! Having designed distance learning courses for years, which have a strong history in correspondence/independent studies formats I have seen syllabi that creep into the 30 page area. Course description, outcomes, a schedule that includes every single reading, an evaluation area that details every little aspect of assignments (including rubrics!), a list of each module’s learning objectives etc. That may work with correspondence courses, because that’s how students get the information they need. But the number of times I hear instructors complain about students not reading the syllabus every September on Twitter when you see scores of instructors brag about shaming students and how “it’s in the syllabus” makes me shake my head. In any context it is hard enough to get people to read a couple of paragraphs of details or instructions (basically what a syllabus is) let alone 30 pages of it.

A colleague of mine once informed me that we had a student in an online course never really show up in the LMS. They received their syllabus and completed the entire course using that and emailing their assignments in – ok interesting idea for how to offer an online course, like how Dan Meyer did, but not the intended design this time!

With that in mind, last spring I decided to try something out. I used an example course I had worked on a previous term and stripped the syllabus all the way down. I included only the information that was required by university policy. Suddenly 10 pages became 2 pages (just one double sided sheet of paper). Assignment details? The go into the course material, and are in the same place that students submit their work. Reading lists? They go in the modules and are offered both as a list at the beginning of the module and in many cases sprinkled throughout the module in the order students are encouraged to tackle them.

I will admit the pendulum maybe swung too far in this particular design, but now we can refine it and hopefully avoid the bloat.


Feature picture by B_Space_Man via Flickr under a CC BY-ND 2.0 License