Paper No. 19-3
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM-6:00 PM
DO OUR SYLLABI ACCURATELY REPRESENT CLASSROOM PRACTICES IN GEOSCIENCE UNDERGRADUATE COURSES?
A course syllabus serves multiple purposes; it introduces students to the course and instructor, establishes course rules and norms and is generally the first document to set the tone of the course. We developed a rubric to code syllabi for characteristics aligned with evidence-based instructional practices. Approximately 200 undergraduate geoscience syllabi were coded for presence and types of course learning objectives, descriptions and types of student learning strategies (course activities), areas of student support and the types and clarity of assessment methods. Syllabus scores quantify student centered (SC) or teacher centered (TC) course characteristics. For each syllabus evaluated, we also have a classroom observation for the same course using the RTOP (Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol). RTOP scores reflect the degree of reformed teaching, based on observed criteria such as students working together on in-class activities, students asking and answering questions, or otherwise participating in guiding the focus of a lesson. Syllabi for SC courses more often include learning objectives with high-level learning goals, such as students’ ability to analyze, evaluate or create information (Bloom, 1956; present in 54% of SC and 18% of TC syllabi). SC course syllabi are more likely to indicate there are elements of student choice in the course (35% of SC vs. 4% of TC syllabi). A lower proportion of grades in SC courses tend to be determined by exams (34% of SC and 54% of TC course grades). However, not all syllabus elements correlate with observations; for example, active learning is common in observations of SC classrooms, but very few syllabi include descriptions of active learning (12% of SC and 9% of TC syllabi). Further statistical analysis will explore which syllabus characteristics best reflect instructional styles noted by in-class observations. Practical results of this investigation include that when instructors reform their teaching strategies, syllabi should be clearly aligned with the in-class experiences that students can expect, and with the instructor's approach to the course. Because the syllabus contributes to a student’s first impression of a course, it is a useful tool to engage students early and represent the course accurately.