Semester-end thoughts, in no particular order.
- A few years after starting teaching I added two pages of frequently asked questions to my syllabus. (Sample FAQs include I have another class/I work during your scheduled office hours. When can I meet with you? and Are the exams really open-book and open-notes?) I realized soon that students didn’t read the FAQs, and likely did not read the syllabus either. I then added an easter egg to the end of the FAQs asking students to send me an email that they had read them and not to tell classmates about this request. It doesn’t help or hurt students to respond. It’s there just to satisfy my curiosity. I’ve kept track of the response rate in the eight or so semesters since. The first semester’s response rate was about 30%. The response rate has trended up since then, reaching 85%–47 out of 55 students–in one section this semester. 36 of 48 students–75%–responded in the other section. The reason, I think, has nothing to do with conscientiousness, but word-of-mouth: “Make sure you read all of Randall’s syllabus. There’s a trick in there.” Whatever the reason, I’m happy if they read it.
- Most students respond to the FAQs in the period from one week before to two weeks after classes begin, but responses trickle in throughout the semester. The record for latest response had belonged to a student who emailed me on the morning of the final exam. As all records should be, that one was broken last week when a student responded to the FAQs the day after the final exam.
- More students may read the FAQs but for most the information doesn’t sink in. They still ask the same questions. The difference now is that a query about an FAQ topic provokes knowing looks from the students who’ve read and remembered the information.
- The FAQs are not just to inform students; they keep me in line. My class policies were not handed down from the mountain top. Climbing the teaching learning curve I made my life difficult a few times by providing contradictory information to the same questions. Writing it all down allows this Socratic response: “Well, what do the FAQs say about that?” The questioner and I can then retreat to look up the FAQs and find the answer.