Educators and the Syllabus


The relationship between educators and the syllabus is very interesting. 

However, we will not be able to discuss this relationship if we do not have an in-depth understanding of the two. So, let’s have a look at the role of an educator first.

In recent years, there’s been a rise in the number of prominent lecturers known for their lectures. It will be good to question the causes of their popularity. The first thing that comes into our minds will probably be the use of humour. All of us love humour. Thus, using humour to sustain the attention of one’s audience is often used by professional speakers. However, if we are to look a little closer at the source of some educators’ popularity, it usually goes beyond humour. Humour entertains, but lecturers also need to enable/encourage students to retain information. I believe that professional speakers have the same objectives as well.  Humour does not work well in this aspect. Some other ingredients are required for information retention.

So, what are these factors?

I believe that understanding the personality of the students is important in engaging them in the lessons. However, this is most effective in a classroom setting where educators are able to focus on individual students.  When it comes to lecturing or presenting, the number of students is too high and the time too short for the understanding of individual’s personalities.  But there’s another way, which is to develop an ability to relate to one’s audience.

I believe that this applies not just to lecturers and presenters but to educators on the whole. As educators, we need to understand the psyche of the students and understand their interests and attitude towards issues. We need to read widely to increase our understanding of the current happenings of the world because our students are equally IT-savvy as us. We need to have presentation slides with a high level of visuals because students of current generations are very visual.  I feel that the successful educators around the world employ the right blend of the abovementioned factors.

Indeed, educators are so crucial to the success of any lesson that they surpass the importance of any syllabus.  When one places a great educator in a classroom, he or she will be able to bring any lesson to life even if the syllabus is not well-structured. However, a mediocre educator will not be able to bring a lesson to life even when the syllabus is structured well. Some educators or school administrators might be aware of this issue but not much can be done about it since placing emphasis on the hiring of good educators over redesigning a set of syllabus requires more time, effort and cost. Moreover, it’s easier to modify an existing set of syllabus than to maintain a consistent teaching/ coaching style of good educators (which is almost an impossible if not uphill task, considering that all individuals have different personalities and teaching styles).

Good educators should be nurtured but we should also question the very existence of the syllabus. While I personally feel that syllabus is important for students to build their foundations in their early years, there should be considerations for syllabus to be removed in higher level learning.  Educators should open up a lesson for students to explore with no syllabus (replaced with a topic), since any set of syllabus will easily constrict the issues discussed during the lesson.  As long as a set of syllabus exists, the students’ learning will be hampered in some way, since they are encouraged to move in a specific direction by the lesson objectives and any tasks that they are asked to do. In the early years, syllabus has been useful as it guides students on the subjects that they are studying within a specific domain. It has been feasible since knowledge is scarce then and to learn through an educator is indeed a privilege. However, with the onset of the knowledge economy and the internet, information is increasing every day and shared among all of us. The amount of information that can be gathered on the internet can easily surpass the level of knowledge of any educator. Just think of the term “advertising”. How many of us educators are able to say that we know more about advertising than what’s available on the internet? I don’t think so. Therefore, providing students with lessons consisting of customised content is passe. So, do students still require educators? My answer is yes, but now educators should guide/facilitate students in their learning, and not to teach.

So, how do we guide/facilitate our students’ learning? We do this by fulfilling individual students’ need for knowledge. We guide them to achieve what they need to learn to do well in life. And each student is different. Herein lies the challenge of the contemporary educator. Hence, with a set of syllabus, we are actually chaining our students and preventing them from expanding their horizons. Remove the syllabus, and our students will soar.

In the absence of a syllabus, the lesson will be great. For instance, consider a lesson on “Advertisement”. Since there is no syllabus, students will be able to explore the topic of advertising according to their needs. Should one student decide to carve out a career in print advertising, he or she can research in that specific area.  Should another student decide to pursue a career in online advertising, it can be achieved too. As educators, we guide/facilitate them in their process of learning. When it comes to assessment, it can be done using a project-based approach (with no exams). Students can then be encouraged to do something of their interest.   This approach will also resolve the issue of graduates not attuned to the demands of the work place, since their research is based on current happenings and not on case studies that occurred a long time ago.

Over time, we can replace our designation of “educators” with “nurturers”.

This approach that is recommended is rather drastic and some educators might not agree with it. Nevertheless, it’s good for educators to give this approach some thoughts. Should this be implemented, it will imply a complete shift in the paradigm of education.

The face of education will never be the same again.

But then again, as educators, we need to move with the times like all other professions.

In fact, we need to move faster than the rest.

P.S: Coincidentally, I came across the concept of Reggio Emilia in the papers shortly after I have penned this article. Reggio Emilia’s concepts are very close to my recommendations above, save for the fact that it’s implemented at the pre-school level, rather than higher level learning.

Especially noteworthy is this sentence:

Teacher autonomy is evident in the absence of teacher manuals, curriculum guides, or achievement tests.  The lack of externally imposed mandates is joined by the imperative that teachers become skilled observers of children in order to inform their curriculum planning and implementation.

Beautifully said.

Should curriculum and syllabus be here to stay, this is the way that it should be implemented.


One thought on “Educators and the Syllabus

  1. Ah, ptayto, you give yourself a difficult challenge at the outset of this post.

    A discussion of popular lecturers with pop star following (think Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams at Carnegie Mellon) without a nod to the long-term trend of grade inflation among top tier schools almost seems incomplete.

    Your foray leaves me wondering about examples of syllabi that have failed you in times past, or wonder what prompted your post.

    I have seen amateurish syllabi that expose the low expectations of jaded lecturers of undergraduates as well as those typewriter-generated, 12-point courier font copies that say “I hold aloft the Holy Grail’ of a required set of classic (read: outdated or biased research) narrow constructions of burnt-out, tenured chairs resting on stale laurels.

    The rising stars in departments I’ve studied under publish the professional development standards that educators must meet through the course, and include diverse assignments with scoring rubrics and anchor papers from past students. Those anchor papers are revealing in so many ways. They challenge the current cohort to rise to the occasion, to go beyond what the last term’s cohort achieved, and can be quite telling about how well the current presenter supported the growth of students in years past.

    I believe that effective lecturers find that delicate balance of meeting students at their current level of proficieny, honoring their life experiences they draw from, while pushing them to examine through self-reflection what will make them better teachers through a series of open-ended guiding questions.

    Much like workforce managers who require employees to prepare for annual reviews by setting their own personal goals and reviewing their performance to date, the most effective lecturers relinguish the ‘sage on the stage’ role for one of a ‘guide on the side.’

    A good syllabus can show a graduate student considering a doctoral program or a future in research how the current presenter approached a broad topic, identified the most critical readings and drew conclusions about how to measure a gain in knowledge and understanding of how the current state of research and debates in the field affect practical application of these ideas for teachers engaged in action research in their classrooms.

    That said, in a recent Google search, I stumbled upon a nearly 12-page syllabus of an Intro to Biology course taught at a local community college. Well over 60% of the content was focused on a student code of ethics (think: how he catches plagiarists and the disciplinary consequences) and expectations of student conduct. This section included having to explicitly state that cell phones must be turned off, and all materials for notetaking or audio recording should be removed from handbags and placed on the desks before the lecturer locks the door and begins to teach to only those who have arrived on time.

    The piece of cultural anthropology spoke so much more to me about the behaviors and habits of first-year community college students than any core content. It left me wondering the tone of the relationship between student and professor in person.

    Thnx for posting. It keeps me thinking.


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