Introduction To Syllabi, a Genre of Discourse

A syllabus is a genre of discourse, a type of text, that defines course requirements, due dates, grading policies.

A syllabus may have multiple authors. Sometimes syllabi are written primarily by a teacher. Teachers may develop course syllabi based on their experience, training and disciplinary expertise. Sometimes, teachers do not have a voice in how syllabi are written. Sometimes syllabi are written by large committees, especially when the course is taught by many different graduate students or adjuncts.

In U.S. Higher Education, it is commonplace for syllabi to be a mix of documents written by different stakeholders, including

  1. U.S. Department of Education
  2. University General Education Councils
  3. Board of Regents for a Universities
  4. Accreditation Committees

Across educational institutions, departments and colleges require teachers to add boilerplate to their syllabi. This boilerplate can be based on language from disciplinary standards, Federal and State laws, disciplinary expertise, university policies, department policy, and program policy.

Because there are so many stakeholders involved in authoring syllabi, the syllabi can become a bit opaque. Teachers have sometimes complained that all of the boilerplate they are asked to add to their syllabi creates a punitive rhetorical stance:

the creeping legalistic syllabus turns the classroom into a quasi courtroom, with students and professors on opposing sides. Its schema of rules and penalties assumes that students aren’t to be trusted, are unwilling to work, and expect only good grades, he says, and sends the message that “basically this is a kind of prison.”

Wasley 2008

The traditional context for a syllabus was that it was a print document that students received on the first day of class. Now that we have shifted to online classrooms or other delivery systems for classes because of COVID, students are more likely to get the syllabus online. They may not get the syllabus on the first day. They may have a spotty wifi connection or limited internet access. Accessing documents online may make it easier for some users to interact with them but at the same time more difficult for other users to interact with them

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