Syllabus maker being designed for eClass

Professors may write future syllabi with a tool being developed for eClass.

The syllabus maker, a new Moodle plug-in, is already being used by the Faculties of Pharmacy and Physical Education and Recreation, and is available to any faculty that asks for it, according to Kenneth Cor, the Associate Director of Assessment for the Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Many faculties, such as Engineering, Nursing, and Law, are required to map out learning outcomes for their programs, Cor explained. The syllabus tool digitally stores syllabus information, making it easier to map.

“Decisions about teaching and assessment need to connect to learning outcomes,” Cor said. “The tool creates a space for reflecting on whether that’s actually happening.”

Within the program, faculties can customize what elements a syllabus will require and integrate policies into every syllabus. There are spaces for the professors to enter contact information, course descriptions, and course information, as well as space to upload texts and readings.

Along with Cor, pharmacy professor Cheryl Sadowski and educational psychology associate professor Sharla King started working on the syllabus tool after winning a Tea Leaf Award to improve teaching on campus. They worked with a team of 400-level computing science students to develop the beta.

In his presentation to the General Faculties Council Subcommittee on the Learning Environment on January 25, Cor demonstrated how the tool allows professors to go into detail on what will happen in each session of the course and how learning outcomes will be met. However, committee member Mani Vaidyanathan, an associate professor of engineering, said he found the program overwhelming.

“It looks very complicated,” he said. “The part I’m missing is the advantage of you giving me text boxes that I fill in and then you generate the PDF versus me just opening a Word document and creating a course outline.”

However, Cor believes the syllabus tool will make professors’ lives easier in the long run.

“There may be a bit of a learning curve initially that makes it seem harder than creating your own syllabus,” he said. “But once you’ve entered this information one time the amount of work that you have to go through to keep your syllabus up to date for years ahead is almost eliminated.”

Students’ Union Vice-President (Academic) Marina Banister asked Cor if students would be able to search through the program’s syllabus database for courses they’re considering taking.

“I think that’s something students would really like and if the database exists that could be a possibility,” she said.

While Cor is currently focused on making the database searchable for professors, he said it’s up to faculties to decide whether students could search for syllabi that are “dumped” into a file.

Now in its second year of development, the tool is still being improved based on feedback from the Faculties of Pharmacy and Physical Education and Recreation and any other faculties that decide to implement it in the future.

“(The syllabus tool) will improve decisions the instructors make about what they teach,” he said. “Ultimately there is a trickle down that should improve the quality of education that students are receiving and the information they get in the syllabus.”