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ESTHER to archive syllabi

By Nicole Zhao     10/4/12 7:00pm

Course syllabi can now be posted within ESTHER and archived over the years, according to Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Paula Sanders. The impetus for this initiative came from students, Sanders said. 

The syllabi posting mechanism went live the week of Sept. 24, Registrar David Tenney said. Instructors will be encouraged to post their course syllabi within ESTHER prior to the first day of class and must do so no later than the end of the first week of classes, Tenney said. Instructors may update the syllabi throughout the semester, according to the Registrar website. 

Additionally, faculty and instructors will be required to archive syllabi within ESTHER beginning in the spring of 2013 in a motion passed by the Faculty Senate on Oct. 3, according to Sanders. 

One benefit to having an archive of syllabi is that graduate schools and employers often ask to view a course syllabus to be sure that certain material had been covered in the course, Sanders said. Rice graduates continue to have access to ESTHER after graduation, according to Tenney. 

"Many students need to provide a syllabus to an employer or a graduate school in order to demonstrate the scope and content of a course that appears on their transcript," Sanders said. "But syllabi often get discarded or misplaced, and it's possible that a faculty member may no longer be available or might not have a syllabus from a previous year."

Jones College junior Nick Rizopoulos worked last year as Jones Student Association Senator to help propose the syllabi standards policy, the posting of syllabi on ESTHER and the archiving of syllabi to the administration, he said. He said the idea originally came from Steven Boswell (Jones '12), who was the Jones Senator two years ago while Rizopoulos was a New Student Representative to the SA. 

"This initiative will play a huge role in improving the quality of a Rice education for both the short and long-term," Rizopoulos said. "Having an archive of syllabi will play a crucial role in accreditation and re-accreditation of departments at Rice, and having the archive accessible to students will allow them to look at course syllabi before they register for a class, which will give them a better idea of what to expect from a class."

Rizopoulos said that after the resolution for the syllabi standards policy and the archival of course syllabi passed through the Student Senate, he presented the resolution to the Committee on Undergraduate Curriculum. The syllabi standards policy requires that all syllabi meet 11 basic requirements, including a course outline, grading policies and overall course expectations. 

Rizopoulos said the CUC then facilitated the resolution's movement toward approval at the Faculty Senate. 

Speaker of the Faculty Senate Jane Grande-Allen said that as an advisor for the master's program in bioengineering, she can understand the need for students to be able to view a course syllabus years after taking the course. 

"We passed [the motions] because the SA, in consultation with the [CUC], did a great job of justifying why this was necessary," Grande-Allen, a bioengineering professor, said. 

Deputy Speaker of the Faculty Senate Carl Caldwell said the syllabi archiving also benefits departments and schools. 

"It will be far easier for a department or school to track what has actually been offered [and] what courses look like in a given program--necessary information if a department or school is interested in assessing and altering its offerings," Caldwell, a history professor, said. 

Caldwell said that although he does not expect most syllabi to be posted far in advance of the first day of classes, he aims to have his syllabi viewable by the time of registration in future years. 

"Maybe they won't be complete, maybe they will require minor or even major tweaking, but their very presence will indicate to students what my courses are about far better than the limited descriptions in the course catalog do currently," Caldwell said. 

Grande-Allen said she thought the mechanism on ESTHER for posting syllabi was well set up. 

"The way that the Registrar has set up ESTHER to upload syllabi is really easy and convenient," Grande-Allen said. "I don't know how many faculty will be able to upload a syllabus ahead of time before the semester starts, but I agree that it would be ideal."

According to the Registrar website, a student may contact the instructor's academic department if the instructor does not post the course syllabus in a timely fashion or ignores requests to post the syllabus. 

Brown College sophomore Karina Farias said being able to see syllabi on ESTHER and access them the first day of classes will help students know what topics are coverd in the class. 

"It's really nice and helps us find those resources easier," Farias said. "You also know now on the first day what you're getting into, because professors don't really get into that on the first day. Having to put the syllabus on ESTHER also makes them have a more finalized one to begin with."



Carl Caldwell is Speaker of the Faculty Senate (not Deputy Speaker) and Jane Grande-Allen is Deputy Speaker not Speaker

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