Using a Syllabus Questions Document to Increase Student Use of Syllabus

Submitted by Benjamin Walton on


Need: Students who make use of class/campus resources perform better academically. However, many rarely use their syllabi. As a result, students frequently ask instructors for things like due dates, class policies, or the # of assignments/points in a class. I've attached two docs: Syllabus Questions & a syllabus.

Enhancement: I created a two-sided "Syllabus Questions" document that students worked on collaboratively during the second class session (see attached).  The students were instructed to (a) find an answer individually, but not write it down yet; (b) when everyone at the table/group had found it, they compared answers; and (c) then wrote down the agreed-upon answer.  No one in the group was to get ahead of the others, but if a group member took more than 1 minute to find an answer, others could provide help.

Results: Easily 80% less questions about due dates, policies, etc.  Collaborative nature of task proved beneficial, because classmates helped each other understand the meaning of syllabus statements.

Completed Full Cycle
Course Number
Average: 4.5 (2 votes)


Olga Tsoudis Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:17am

Benjamin, This is a great activity to have students work on the syllabus questions individually and then together as a group. Did you find it help with a more success semester with regards to students' submissions and grades? Thanks for sharing! Smiles, Olga

Benjamin Walton Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:31am

Great question, Olga.  I hadn't drawn the connection myself, but now that you say it, I think the answer is a solid "yes."  Just this week, when a major assignment was due in COM263, I said to myself, "Oh, wow, almost everyone turned it in," but I hadn't drawn the connection. 

There is one connection I did make though.  In my COM100 course, I added to a section, pushing back a due date for a small assignment.  This was shared with the class during class.  Nonetheless, I had a surprising number of students email me the night before the original due date saying in essence "You haven't readied us enough yet for the assignment due tomorrow."  To that I reminded them that the assignment due date had been pushed back a week.

Peter Turner Mon, 02/20/2017 - 4:04pm

First, let me start off by complimenting you with regards to your organization of your CATS: Need, Enhancement, Results. These are excellent cue words, and as we instruct others to write CATS, I will use your submissions as a framework example.

Regarding this CATS, well done. I like your structured class discussions to address the areas of greatest confusion with your syllabus. And it is that this strategy has helped!

Becky Baranowski Mon, 02/20/2017 - 6:29pm

I agree with Pete in that I really like the organization of Need, Enhancement, and Results.  I also like that you had students working in groups so that you built community while engaging them in an activity that helped them learn about expectations for the course.  Thanks for sharing.  

Benjamin Walton Tue, 02/21/2017 - 11:59am

In reply to by Becky Baranowski

Rebecca, I appreciate the feedback.  Having the students work in groups proved more valuable than I thought it would. It did function as a meaningful community-building exercise.  Most surprising was the difficulty students had--and it wasn't always the same students within a group--understanding what the syllabus said at points. 

Interestingly, my initial reason for having students put in the document the location (page number and spot on that page) of each answer was so that they could use the document as a quick reference later.  It turned out that it was a good idea to do this also to ensure that students would actually read what the syllabus said about some questions, particularly those questions students had presumed they already knew the answer to before looking at the syllabus.

Jill Santy Tue, 02/21/2017 - 2:34pm

Ben, I really like how you have helped students become more accountable for what is in the syllabus.  Plus, your syllabus is so thorough!  I may copy a few of your sections and links!  I have used a Canvas quiz to assess understanding of my syllabus, but I really like the inter-active learning that goes on with this approach.  Thanks for the idea!

Benjamin Walton Tue, 02/21/2017 - 3:51pm

In reply to by Jill Santy

Jill, I appreciate the kind words.  Glad to see that you see value in this CATS.  Feel free, as you mentioned, to copy sections and links from the syllabus.  I prefer shorter syllabi, but mine have recently doubled in length to meet HLC requirements.  Thanks, Ben

Amy Weibel Thu, 02/23/2017 - 8:58am

Hi Ben -

I am constantly pushing back for my students to refer to the syllabus.  You are tagging a lot of birds all at once with this strategy - accountability, community, research.  Nice job!

Jennifer Copeland Sat, 10/07/2017 - 10:53am

I'm a solid believer in setting the tone and pace for the class from day 1 and reviewing the syllabus may seem "mondaine" but as you have showed there is such a significant purpose. Increasing submission as well as a clear understanding of guidelines and due dates is imperative for moving forward. Well done!

Benjamin Walton Thu, 10/12/2017 - 8:32am

Jennifer, I appreciate your note of encouragement on this and your kind words.  I worked on this CATS because of your excellent Adjunct Faculty Mentoring Program.  I still use the document, updating it to reflect differences in each class.  It continues to prove to be helpful.  Take care, Ben