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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 22, 2024

Tufts should make course syllabi open to students

Tufts’ students should be able to know what they’re signing up for.

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I’m a first-semester undergrad in the five-year combined degree program with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. In my time at Tufts, I’ve noticed that registering for courses is made difficult by a significant factor — not knowing the specifics of how the classes I’m enrolling in are taught until the class’ first meeting or when the syllabus is posted on Canvas. From what I’ve heard, I’m far from the only one being impacted.

Currently, when students enroll for classes on SIS, the course listings offer a standard set of information — notably a course number, title, professor, attributes and a couple-sentence description of what the course will cover. This information doesn’t offer nearly enough insight.

It’s never clear what the format of the course is. Is it graded based on a series of papers, quizzes and projects or a single final exam? How is the schedule laid out? What specific topics does it discuss and cover? What’s the length of the readings, and are the texts provided? Open syllabi can additionally offer a method to see how different faculty may structure a course, especially in courses that many students take, like the many professors teaching Expository Writing each in their own way.

How can we find that invaluable content beyond the short description? While we can consult the professor or a friend who already took the course or the internet, there’s no unified, official source from the university.

Brown University facilitates a for-students, by-students platform called The Critical Review for evaluations on courses. Some departments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology post past syllabi to their publicly accessible department pages. Washington University in St. Louis’ enrollment system also offers an archive of past syllabi for classes to students. Faculty voluntarily submit syllabi and a disclaimer states there is no “guarantee that past syllabi will conform to future versions of a course.”

A couple stops down the Red Line, Harvard University offers students a Syllabus Explorer through the university’s library and requires that faculty post “basic syllabus information” for each registration period, as well as a complete syllabus and reading list before the start of the semester.

The counterarguments against this collection are unfounded. Tufts may have concerns about the intellectual property of faculty and departments, but there is a volume of information that’s shared with students and held within the institution. Syllabi are already shared with a number of students enrolled in a class and the libraries offer collections of copyrighted content without issue. Brown, WashU and Harvard restrict access to students using their university accounts.

There’s a simple way for Tufts students to have similar resources to our peers at Brown, MIT, Harvard and WashU: Immediately post syllabi in a forum only accessible to Tufts students and faculty behind an institutional login wall, as most others have.

Following that, Tufts should create a long-term catalog of information by directing faculty and department administration to create basic syllabi and holding these to a consistent institutional standard.

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