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Cards on the table: I love, love, love this idea.

Emily Farris tweeted a few days ago:

This is one of those ideas that’s so obvious as soon as I hear it that I’m actually embarrassed not to have thought of it.

First of all, it’s clearly useful. When it comes time to teach a given class again in a following semester, you have direct feedback on what they liked and what they didn’t. Professors can and should use their professional judgment on how to interpret the feedback—popularity and quality aren’t the same thing—but the feedback is direct and relevant.

Second, and this is my point rather than Farris’s, so blame me instead of her, it’s a relatively clean and painless form of outcomes assessment. Did every assignment work? The idea behind continuous improvement is keeping what works well and replacing the things that don’t; that’s exactly what this exercise enables.

Third, it’s specific. Student course evaluations are notoriously subject to halo effects. But the syllabus is about the material, rather than the instructor, and it invites students to make distinctions among assignments rather than a vague “it was pretty good.” I’ve had great classes with weak moments, and I don’t think that’s unique. This exercise is built to isolate those weak moments with enough precision to enable improvement.

Finally, it reiterates to students that syllabi matter. I know that this has been a struggle for a long time, and probably will be for a long time to come. But returning to the syllabus at the end offers a chance to show how things tied together, why the materials selected were selected, and what the overall goals of the course were. It can double as a sort of final exam review.

If you take the syllabus as a statement of goals and structure, then returning to it at the end of the class to see whether it accomplished its goals—at a moment when the course is fresh in students’ minds—makes great sense.

This post is unapologetic amplification. Kudos to Farris for an idea so simple, useful and brilliant that I hope it catches on widely. It’s too good an idea to let it fade into the archives of Twitter. Yes, yes, yes.

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