Opening Up the Classroom

This report, “Opening Up the Classroom: Greater Transparency through Better, More Accessible Course Information,” by Jay Schalin, proposes a way to improve the transparency and accountability of colleges and universities. It recommends that faculty be required to post their course syllabi—the descriptions that go beyond the sketchy catalog summaries—on the Internet, with access open to the public.

The report also recommends that posting should occur when registration opens for the next term’s classes, typically two to five months before that term begins, so that students can use the information for course selection. It proposes that the syllabi for all courses be available at a single Web site.

The posted syllabi need not be the full documents, with complete schedules, that are used in class. But at the very least each syllabus should offer a detailed class description and a full list of reading selections.

There are four important reasons for posting such documents on the Web. These are: to aid students as they register for courses, to expose a professor’s deviation from normal expectations or acceptable academic standards, to aid in pedagogical research and information sharing, and to make comparisons between classes at different universities easier for the determination of transfer credits.

This report explores these reasons and responds to objections. It discusses two posting systems, one at the University of Washington and one at Duke University, that go a long way to informing students and the public of what really goes on in the classroom.

For a .pdf of the report, click here.