by Danielle Kinsey
When faced with the task of creating a new course, let’s be real about what we do: we go online and see how other people have done it. And lots of generous people have posted their syllabi online – on their own webpages, on their twitter accounts, on share sites. A few students have even posted my syllabi on those for-profit note-sharing websites we’re not supposed to know about. Who says the history students of today aren’t entrepreneurial?
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone about the Canadian Historical Association’s website for finding and sharing syllabi: the newly reconstituted CHA Syllabi Central. It is searchable by course title, keyword, and author! Feel free to browse the database but also consider posting your own syllabi! Get some inspiration, give some inspiration.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to answer a few FAQs about the Syllabi Central.
Q1) Is it just for Canadian history courses?
No! It’s for any course, undergraduate or graduate, about any region, any time period, and any topic with some kind of historical component to it. It’s for the thing you do. It really is.
Q2) My syllabus is only in one of the official languages. Can I post it anyway?
Q3) I’m concerned about intellectual property and other people adopting my ideas or syllabus verbiage as their own. How can I be protected?
We share your concerns. Let’s assume that 100% of your syllabus is generated by you and at no point did you draw inspiration from another’s syllabus. And let’s also, for now, sidestep debates about the concept of “intellectual property” and the reasons for open access. These debates rage across the academy in a number of ways as evidenced in the panels that just recently happened about “Open Educational Resources” at the CHA Annual Meeting in Vancouver.
Maybe the way to come at this problem is to focus on citations. Robert Talbot (to cite my source), in a CHA Council meeting, suggested that what we all can do to protect one another is to get into the habit of citing our sources when we write a syllabus. We could use the document as an opportunity to practice what we preach by attributing the work of others and modelling proper citation format. Aside from modelling, it might also help students take the syllabus more seriously by showing how one specific syllabus is part of a conversation about history, teaching, and learning, that goes beyond the individual instructor.
Q4) What if I share my syllabus and I am ridiculed for not being innovative enough?
I don’t want to dismiss this fear because it seems to be common enough. Does innovative teaching automatically mean effective teaching? I don’t think so, but that’s a larger discussion. Syllabi are primary documents. They are evidence of a moment in time and they are as incomplete and alive with historical contingency as any primary source out there. There is space between the syllabus and what went on in the classroom and there is space between the course I really wanted to teach and the syllabus I ran with for that semester. I haven’t been teaching for a tremendously long time (a little over a decade) but it has been long enough to understand that what worked well a decade ago, might not now. Courses transform, instructors learn, and the topics students connect with, as well as the kind of support they need, can dramatically shift year to year.
To share a syllabus online is not to say, “This is how everyone should teach,” but to say, “I went into an arena with this as a game plan. Contact me for details on how it turned out!” Citing our sources might also lead to a wider understanding of how courses and syllabi need to be understood in context.
PS – if you find yourself contemplating how far you’ve come with, say, a survey course you used to teach one way and now you teach a dramatically different way, please consider writing a blog post for us about your transformation and why! I’d love to read about it.
Other questions or concerns? Feel free to get in touch and we’ll try to address them. Contact me at Danielle.Kinsey@carleton.ca.
Syllabi, they’re in you to give!*
*adapted from the iconic Canadian Blood Service’s campaign
Visit our CHA Syllabi Central to circulate some inspiration!
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