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.

4 thoughts on “FAQs”

  1. Yeah, I remember when I read the LA245 FAQ and responded before the class started, I just thought that this kooky professor is giving away points just for reading the syllabus (doesn’t email participation count in your class?). I wouldn’t be surprised if others thought the same way. This relates to your point of it not sinking in either – maybe all those “word of mouth” responders just skipped to the back page, or maybe didn’t even read it and knew just to email you and say they read it. Either way, I think its a great “easter egg” and definitely makes student think – ok, this professor isn’t your usual stuffy type, and actually put some thought/humour into a normally dry article…

  2. It’s mad ironic that you wrote this blog entry because I was always wondering the purpose of having us email you if we read it. I thought we would get an extra credit point or something. With school being so competitive, I think people are always going to tell their friends. It’s on you Randall to come up with a sneaky way to try to eliminate people from telling others so you can you can get a true count of how many people read the syllabus on their own will. If you wanted EVERYONE to read the syllabus though, I suggest just saying something about it. Your the only Professor I ever had that never mentioned reading the syllabus to the class;I found that very interesting.

  3. I don’t rely solely on students’ initiative to read the syllabus. In the first or second class I say something such as “read the syllabus–it contains everything you need to know about the course.”

  4. I know this is going to sound geeky but I had read the syllabus in the beginning of the semester and the day after the final exam. I realized that a lot of the questions I had and others I heard being asked in class where answered in the syllabus. I guess what I am trying to say is that students tend to forget what they read in the beginning of the semester and somewhere along the time when the court observation paper is due questions similar to the ones in the FAQs start to be asked. At this point, I guess we either have to keep the syllabus as our first source for answers, or we need a real Easter egg around the time the court observation paper is due – it would be around the time for Easter anyway…

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