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The Syllabus: A seemingly simple, yet complex document to manage

syllabus on deskThe syllabus is a bedrock document for ensuring academic preparedness in higher education. It establishes expectations, learning goals, and, of course, the booklist for the semester. Yet, through our conversations with administrators and faculty, we have seen how difficult it is to track, organize, and maintain these documents at an institutional level.

Let’s start with the booklist. At most schools, there is no way of ensuring that the booklist on a syllabus is in sync with adoptions sent to the bookstore. This can lead to disruptive ordering errors or situations in which students are surprised on the first day of class. A syllabus that links directly to the required materials can immediately impact student preparedness and increase bookstore utilization.

For faculty, creating syllabi is more cumbersome than it should be. Instructors typically have to enter book information manually, a tedious process that can often be inaccurate. Since most institutions lack a centralized repository for syllabi, instructors also find themselves digging around when they want to repurpose a syllabus from a past semester. Easy access to historical syllabi and the option to repurpose syllabus items would save time and aggravation for instructors.

Institutions also have a difficult time maintaining regulatory, accreditation, and policy compliance on syllabi. Schools often have required sections or specific policy language that should appear on the syllabus, but they have no real way of ensuring that this gets done. A syllabus that automates this language, placing it directly into the document alleviates ongoing emailing to clarify what is required, what is recommended, and confirm that it is complete.

Creating and submitting syllabi is a relatively low-tech method with a lot of manual processes. The way these documents are created works, but improvements are still possible, especially with the technological advances we have today. Being able to easily streamline and track syllabi in a system-wide repository is a major advantage in accreditation reporting and other administrative review processes.

Colleges and universities have much to gain by implementing a streamlined system for publishing, storing, and managing syllabi: reduced educator workload, greater accreditation compliance, stronger institutional memory, and improved academic preparedness. Syllabi are great at organizing courses, but is there a better way to organize syllabi?