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From: Bowen, J. A. (2012).

Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will
Improve Student Learning (pp. 135-136). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Implementation: The Syllabus as Motivational Tool

A syllabus can be many things (see, e.g., Grunert-O’Brien, Cohen, & Mills, 2008), but faculty should not
neglect its power to communicate important messages and to motivate and set high standards. In
addition to serving as a contract with students and a way to clarify the goals of the course, a syllabus
with lots of resources and options can be intimidating, but also conveys your expectations.

Your first motivational opportunity is the learning outcomes. Most accrediting bodies require a syllabus
for every class that includes learning outcomes. Articulating learning outcomes for each class and then
discussing them at faculty meetings provide an excellent opportunity for departments to integrate
leaning in individual courses and to make sure that the four-year undergraduate experience adds up to
more than the sum of its parts. However, learning outcomes are also important learning tools. Telling
students what you want them to learn provides clarity and focus. Connecting class session back to
course learning outcomes increases learning; just telling students that they are using critical thinking
skills improves their critical thinking skills. Having and using learning outcomes also demonstrates that
you care what students learn.

Your learning outcomes also set the height of the bar. Since we know that high expectations matter,
your learning outcomes should convey what you expect. If you also convey that the class will be a
supportive place for failure and learning, you can immediately establish the two most important
learning strategies: high standards and a nurturing environment.

The syllabus is also an opportunity to demonstrate how and where students have control, another
important aspect of motivation. Transparency provides some control, so be clear about grading systems
and due dates. A syllabus quiz gives students control by providing an opportunity for everyone to do
well, simply by reading their e-mail and making sure to do the work before class. E-mail students the
course syllabus or the website link in advance, and then provide a short online quiz on just the syllabus
before the first class. If you really want students to know you are serious, also administer a short closed-
book quiz on the syllabus in the first minute of class. If you can then make this first exposure relevant to
what happens in the first class, you will have firmly established that coming to class prepared is
important and useful: for example, spend a few minutes having students come up with ways mastering
these learning outcomes will help them in some future task for life goal.