Policies and Agreements to Start the Semester

Daniel Emery

In previous years, August blog entries have focused on using syllabus descriptions to clarify purposes, tasks, and audiences for student writing, describing writing expectations in your field, and fostering academic belonging in your course. These gems will be helpful to instructors designing new courses' syllabi and those simply making revisions. In this blog post, The Teaching with Writing (TWW) Program offers new advice for syllabus statements on ChatGPT and two strategies for making your syllabus more effective and engaging for students (and a little slimmer).

Syllabus Statements for Chat GPT Use

Horizon and sunrise over landscape of hills in late fall

A recent article in The Atlantic suggests, somewhat anachronistically, that we are entering the second year of AI college. The rapid improvement of generative AI tools has launched a gold rush in the technology sector and a blizzard of chatbots offering assistance with many forms of writing.  

The Office of the Provost and the Faculty Senate Committee on Educational Policy has provided three sample syllabus statements to allow the use of Generative AI (including Chat GPT), to restrict the conditions of its use, or to prohibit the use of ChatGPT under all circumstances. To assist faculty and instructors in selecting a relevant course policy, we offer three guides that explain how generative AI works, how style sheets guide the attribution of AI-generated content, and essential considerations for restrictive policies:

Instructors are encouraged to adapt these statements to their courses, and it is important to inform students that, regardless of course policy, submitting AI-generated writing for an assignment without attribution will be considered scholastic dishonesty and punishable by the Office of Community Standards. Students can learn more about these guidelines in the Board of Regents Student Conduct Code.

Strategies For Developing a More Engaging Syllabus

Many instructors are moving beyond syllabi consisting of materials lists and grading schemes to include content related to student wellbeing and classroom climate. As in the case of Ken Bain’s promising syllabus, instructors are creating course policies that highlight opportunities for learning and growth and foreground strategies for student success.

Unfortunately, these welcome changes and others have also resulted in what Mano Singham called “syllabus creep,” in which the effort to create clear and enforceable guidelines for course management transforms syllabi into ever-growing documents. Like when reading the terms and conditions of new software, readers may be tempted to forego careful reading and accept policies without a moment’s consideration when faced with long, complex documents.

Using a community agreements framework for course conduct

An emerging alternative to the “cover-every-contingency” course policy model is to welcome students into constructing shared agreements about course conduct and policies. Rather than establishing classroom rules created by instructors to apply to students, discussing students' expectations and shared values can forge a stronger sense of community and commitment. Organizations dedicated to community participation and access offer many examples of community agreements and resources for developing them, like this one from the National Equity Project.

In her description of her agreements process, Jesica Siam Fernandez suggests a potential norm of critical reflexivity, where students are attentive to their thoughts, why they are thinking what they are thinking, and how that thinking shows up in their classroom interactions and sharing. This reflective opportunity encourages students to pause to reflect on course processes and practices and to reconsider their assumptions and expectations of classroom community and climate.

Using Canvas Tools for Course Calendars, Assignments, and Due Dates

In the wake of the pandemic-required turn to online instruction, students are becoming more accustomed to using learning management platforms like Canvas. For recent high school graduates, access to readings, assignments, and activities online through a learning management system like Canvas has become second nature. Moving some length-producing items like course calendars, assignments, and due dates into the corresponding Canvas tools can make syllabi shorter and clearer.

Although many of us are accustomed to a one-stop set of course policies and information in a large document, using the Canvas course calendar and associating Canvas due dates with course activities tools can reduce the length of your syllabus and keep this important information up-to-date in students' dashboards and front of mind as they plan their work.

Further Support

See the Teaching with Writing pages and our Teaching Resources for more good advice. Our WAC program hosts the popular Teaching with Writing event series. Each semester, this series offers free workshops and discussions. Visit us online and follow us on Twitter @UMNWriting. Contact us to schedule a phone, email, or face-to-face teaching consultation.