One of my teenage sons used to refer to the syllabus in his high school course as a "silly-bus." In many ways, in today's ever-changing world, it still is: "Silly"; a learning "Bus", if you will, and far too often to a new destination, or at least one whose route has changed.
For many of us, the courses we teach today change as we teach them, right in front of our collective nose. The content we chose on Monday has been tweaked by someone on Tuesday, and repackaged before the week is out. What we thought was good and useful gospel may now be considered whimsy, or worse. If we had put our syllabus on a Wiki, it would be no longer what it was. It might be a lot better, too.
Some may claim, for example, that a math syllabus may be exempt. I taught math for many years and Euclid may be as immutable as parallel lines, but just as there's often more than one way to a do a proof or solve a problem, there's more than one way to learn.
I have prepared many a syllabus in my 40+ years of teaching. Like lessons plans, many educational institutions from K-12 to higher-ed require a syllabus. Truth in packaging. Syllabi are the blueprints for our courses, the GPS on where the nuggets lie, the product information booklets for education. We may not offer guarantees when we teach, but there should be full disclosure and recourse.
Take textbooks, too, for example....please! I can't use a textbook anymore. The content changes by the time it's published. Used to be in olden days that the textbook was the syllabus for many teachers.
Here's what American Heritage Dictionary has to say about the word "syllabus":
[Medieval Latin, probably alteration (influenced by Greek sullambanein, to put together) of Latin sillybus, parchment label, from Greek sillubos.]
Here are some non-traditional suggestions on this tradition-bound issue:
1. Invite your students in to help create or modify your course syllabus.
2. What should be included or left out in the syllabus?
3. How should it be learned? What's the best lesson plan for today and tomorrow?
4. What are the effective ways to show what we know? Let students help make the rubric.
5. Can rubrics differ for different learners? How can we all show that we know?
6. How can we gather useful feedback to improve the syllabus for the next group of learners passing through this chartered territory?
In today's ever-changing world, a syllabus needs to be dynamic. Even more, it needs the learners as active participants. Both teachers and students should be owners and doers and helpers. What's a village for, if we all want an educated village?
For education to become better, we must all become co-learners and co-teachers. The Wiki concept is a powerful model to help make that happen. Google, too.
I'll bet there are many more ideas out there on how to make a syllabus come alive with our synergy.
We are all of us smarter than any of us. But we already know that. Let's use it.