Sunday, August 06, 2006

Culture Shock: Writing a Syllabus

I never gave much thought to the syllabi I received on the first day of every college class. I just assumed the Syllabus Faerie created them all on the day before the semester started.

Now, for some well-established classes where the content doesn't change much, I'm sure a new professor is handed the old syllabus as a starting point, but when teaching a brand-new class it's something one has to create from scratch. And when that class is game-related, you probably won't find that many similar classes to draw inspiration from.

Having never written one of these before, I was a bit nervous. But now I'm feeling much better about it, because I found a way to bring the art of syllabus-writing into my field of expertise using two models:

Syllabus as Developer/Publisher Contract. In a way, a syllabus is a contract between the professor and the students. Both syllabus and game development contract spell out timelines and development goals and a description of the end-user experience. The contract is agreed to by both parties (in this case, the students "agree" by not dropping the course, analogous to a publisher not canceling the project). And the contract is a living document, open to negotiation if all parties agree partway through that it just isn't working in some area.

Syllabus as Game Design Document. A design doc describes in great detail what the game will do and how it will work, down to the core mechanics. A syllabus describes in equally great detail what the class will involve, how it will work, and what are the grading mechanics. Again, both documents are subject to iteration during the course of the project; in particular, game features (lecture topics) tend to get added or cut later on in the project (course) when there is more or less time than needed in the schedule (semester).


zandperl said...

Even if a course is established, you don't always get handed a syllabus. And if you do, you don't always have to / want to stick to it.

The part that most surprised me about writing syallabi is that under the contract I work under, there's a really specific format the contract has to take. To some extent it's helpful b/c it gives me guidelines on how to write it, but it's also irritating when I get syllabi sent back to me by the dean b/c they didn't fit one tiny line item in the contract.

But yeah, thinking of it as a contract between yourself and the students is very helpful. I try to specific everything about how I'll grade them in the syllabus, so they know exactly what to expect, and if they have issues later we can both refer to the syllabus to resolve it.

Anonymous said...

is a syllabus an environment friendly form of transportation ?