The End of the Paper Syllabus

On the first day of classes, the ritual has been the same for decades: Professors hand out copies of the syllabus and walk students through it. But in most courses at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh this fall, the only thing professors may hand out is a URL.

That’s because the dean of the College of Letters and Science told professors that — for financial and educational reasons — they should put their syllabuses online, and stop distributing them on the first day of classes. —Scott JaschikThe End of the Paper Syllabus (Inside Higher Ed)

My syllabus contains a notice that the official syllabus is always the online version, and that the paper copy I hand out on the first day is only for the convenience of the student.

On the first day, I give students printouts of the first one or two assignments, but after that I tell them that they’ll be expected to check the website and print out copies on their own.

Once in a while I will distribute a printed handout, often while asking the students, “How often do I give you printouts? What can you deduce about the importance of this document if I’m putting it into your hands today?”

One problem I’ve had with online syllabi is that my faculty peers sometimes get confused when they read them offline, since a well-designed online document doesn’t always make sense on paper.