Syllabi

I’ve been particularly influenced by John Haugeland’s essay “Truth and Rule Following.” Rules relate to ontology and affect something fundamental about our intentionality and phenomenological experience of the world around us. Just as rules turn chess pieces into rooks and bishops, causing us to feel the (il)legitimacy of certain (even potential) moves, so too the syllabus works to constitute the experience of a class, to give us a world. This insight is the basis for how I approach my syllabi. In writing and revising them—a process that happens not just between but also during semesters—I conscientiously work to design a world for my students. We often talk metaphorically of the syllabus as a map, and I work hard to make the “map” elements visually conspicuous and aesthetically appealing. Course goals function as visually prominent destinations. Readings, assignments, activities, and my explicit commitment to various teaching methodologies are the paths laid out to get us there. Course policies mark out the limits or boundaries along the paths. Additionally, I highlight important university resources—both academic and those related to student well-being—which are often necessary stations along the way. Importantly, I work to make the milestones prominent—visually dividing out the course units and listing deadlines and reminders by date in the course plan. This latter point is critical on a pedagogical level, laying out the conceptual map of the course content. Not only does it help students understand upfront as clearly as possible the different elements of the course material, it makes the intellectual narrative of the course apparent and helps students later to fit individual readings or ideas into that narrative. Finally, while always a goal, I find it impossible to eliminate student anxiety over grades. Consequently, I transparently lay out and detail the grading scheme—and then recreate that scheme on Blackboard or Canvas—so that students are always in a position to evaluate their own progress.