SAGE Musings: Student-Centered Syllabi

Eric Baer, Highline College
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published Jan 9, 2017

As we come to a new term, I have been thinking about how to revise my syllabi. This was prompted by an email from a colleague in psychology; she pointed out that research shows that syllabi make a difference in how students perceive the course instructor and the likelihood they would seek help (Richmond et al., 2016). I was a bit surprised by this since it seems students often don't seem to read the syllabus, but since changing a syllabus is a relatively easy thing to do, I figured I would give it a try.

But what changes to make? I was prompted by a discussion and a few other things to revise my syllabus to be more "collectivist" and more learner-centric. This is partly because I have read that forming a sense of community in a class can increase retention, as well as some thoughts that our students are more collectivist leaning and might do better in a more collectivist environment, prompted by Alana Connor's work on cultural differences. Where I could, I switched "you" in my syllabus to "we" and I replaced "class" with "our class" to increase that sense of belonging and "we're in this together."

I also tried to make my syllabus more learner-centric (Cullen and Harris, 2009). I found the rubric in the appendix of that paper to be particularly helpful. Of course, I didn't feel comfortable with everything – I just made those changes that I felt comfortable with. So I added more reasons as to why my policies are the way they are, I articulated in what parts of the course students are going to do independent research, and I put more "friendly" encouragement to get help from me. Will I end up with students who perceive me as "markedly more positive"? Will they see me as "more creative, caring, happy, receptive, reliable, and enthusiastic as well as having more student engagement in their class" as the article concludes I will? We'll find out!


Cullen, R. and Harris, M. 2009. Assessing learner-centredness through course syllabi. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 115–125.

Richmond, A. S., J. M. Slattery, N. Mitchell, R. K. Morgan, and J. Becknell. 2016. Can a Learner-Centered Syllabus Change Students' Perceptions of Student–Professor Rapport and Master Teacher Behaviors? Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 159–168.

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