and these syllabi can influence their perceptions of instructor effectiveness (Jenkins et al., 2014). Despite notable pressure to make science
classrooms more active (Wieman, 2014), the literature rarely emphasizes the need for a more holistic approach to reform, which includes
the syllabus as an important document. Our findings suggest that syllabi may have been forgotten and may need more attention in the
Limitations & Future Directions
Logistics necessitated that we use a small sample that limited our
power to detect significance in our trends. We restricted our sample
of instructors to a single institution to focus on one nonmajors introductory biology course to have more comparable samples, but this
limits the applicability of our findings to other populations and
courses. Future work that includes a larger sample of instructors from
a range of institutions may help solidify the trends we observed. It
would also be worthwhile to analyze the syllabi of other courses
taught by these same instructors in future studies, to identify any
potential imbalance in investment of time and effort for course design
between majors and nonmajors courses.
Further, our quantitative data could not address why some
instructors demonstrated reformed teaching practices yet their syllabi
were only teacher-centered or transitional. Instructors may be simply
unaware of the syllabus as a vehicle for learner-centered expression,
or may not feel as if they have sufficient time to adequately reform
parts of their course syllabus from semester to semester. Or perhaps
this disconnect is a manifestation of resistance. Faculty may not feel
it is their responsibility to motivate students to learn, within and
beyond the syllabus; yet faculty often have a strong influence on students’ motivation to learn in a course (Christensen & Menzel, 1998).
Further, certain instructors may feel that overuse of positive language
within their syllabi could convey an inaccurate representation of their
personality or pedagogical practices (Thompson, 2007). Future qualitative research using instructor interviews may better explain learner-centeredness misalignment among teaching philosophies, teaching
practices, and syllabi. Additionally, future studies should also focus
on how reformation of the course syllabus influences student success
in the classroom.
Recommendations for Instructors
Our findings support that course syllabi have the potential to express
learner-centered practices and values, or the lack thereof, detected by
other instruments (e.g., RTOP, ATI). Therefore, we encourage instructors to place more emphasis on syllabi during course reform and to
use syllabus scoring metrics such as Palmer et al.’s (2014) rubric to
(1) self-evaluate how learner-centered their course syllabi are and
(2) modify sections of the syllabi on the basis of rubric scores and criteria. Given that syllabi often serve as the first line of contact between
the instructor and students in a course, we suggest that instructors
begin to prioritize the syllabus as a learner-centered means of communication and continue to reform course syllabi each semester.
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