SA begins effort to post syllabi online

by AnnMary Mathew | 11/22/04 6:00am

At a time when everything from course readings to grades is posted online, Dartmouth students are often surprised to discover that updated course syllabi are not available to them during the course selection process.

The Student Assembly wants to change that, although it is likely to face an uphill, protracted fight.

Many professors have expressed concerns about the plan, said Vice President of Academic Affairs Steven Koutsavlis '05. He and Student Body President Julia Hildreth '05 cited faculty worries about protection of intellectual property and the dynamic nature of syllabi.

The Assembly envisions a searchable database of continually updated syllabi, possibly imbedded within the College's version of Blackboard, Hildreth said.

"One of the most important things we do during our time here at Dartmouth is pick our courses," Koutsavlis said, noting that online syllabi would ease the pain of the shopping period, which consumes a significant percentage of Dartmouth's short, 10-week terms.

Koutsavlis said that online syllabi would benefit both students and faculty.

"For faculty, you get more educated students, ones that know they want to be in the class," Koutsavlis said.

Assistant Dean of Faculty Jane Carroll said that she understands faculty concerns over making syllabi available online, as professors often do not finish their syllabi until the night before classes begin.

She added that professors are very busy at the end of each term, making it hard to require them to get their syllabi in by the course selection period.

Carroll worried that if syllabi are posted online as they become available, students will end up preferring courses that do not change from year to year.

"Often the most interesting courses are the ones that change a lot," Carroll said.

However, Carroll said she thought most professors would come around to the idea eventually.

The Assembly has been cautious about proceeding with the project because of professors' concerns.

"We're not trying to plough forth with the project under the objections of faculty members," Koutsavlis said.

The Assembly continues to research the logistics of creating online syllabi, and Hildreth said its efforts remain on track. But she said the Dean of Faculty's office has yet to move forward.

Carroll said that the will of the faculty must be known before the Dean of Faculty could go forward with the project.

Koutsavlis conceded that the project asks a lot of professors. However, Hildreth pointed out that posting syllabi would be completely optional.

Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning director Tom Luxon supported the project in a recent faculty meeting, Hildreth and Koutsavlis said.

"I hope we get to a point where everyone agrees that this is a good thing," Luxon said, but declined to comment further.

Some professors said they don't completely oppose the project, but statistics about the overall number of professors who back it are not available.

"I can't think of any reason to keep syllabi from students," Government professor Ben Valentino said. "I'm for anything that would let students make more informed course choices."

Many schools have taken up online course syllabi over the past few years.

Princeton has abbreviated syllabi available to students choosing courses, Hildreth said.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an impressive open course system where anyone, not just those affiliated with MIT, can access syllabi, readings and exams for 500 of MIT's courses.

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