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A Synchronous Exercise for Collective Syllabus Annotation

Christine D. Holmes, School of Social Work

View Christine’s poster presentation

Course syllabi are vital texts that communicate the vision for a semester of learning. While a first-day syllabus review can outline the course structure, lectures consume time that would otherwise be spent co-constructing the value of a course with students. To stimulate interest and promote community amongst students, instructors can adapt annotation to an online or residential classroom and encourage students to interact with the syllabus and their peers. 

On the first day of an online social work practice course, students listened to a brief lecture on course policies. They were then divided into small groups to annotate different assignment descriptions. The assignments were applied projects containing core course concepts, which enabled students to flag new terms and consider how the assignments would apply to their respective practice settings. Each group had assigned roles: a notetaker, a facilitator to ensure all group members’ voices were represented, a reporter to share the group’s findings in large group discussion. The groups were given 15 minutes to produce an assignment summary, note their questions about the assignment and provide peer advice on how to prepare for the assignment.

After small group discussions, each reporter presented their group’s work to the class. Non-reporters validated or supplemented presentations with additional points. Students reflected that it was fun to think about the course topic through the projects; group work helped the class all think together; and that group discussions and presentations helped give real attention to assignments at the outset of the class. 

Collective syllabus annotation has the potential to inspire student cohesion and agency through peer level teaching and learning. The experience of this exercise stressed how even the most taken for granted aspects of a lesson, such as the syllabus lecture, can be opportunities to illuminate the curiosity and intellect of a learning community.

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