Rethinking the Syllabus Quiz

Game of Thrones character Eddard Stark meme with the caption 'Brace yourself . . . a syllabus quiz is coming'Since my summer course, I have been using an #ungrading approach, built on the anti-racist assessment strategies that I used previous semesters. With such an approach, the standard syllabus quiz is a poor fit. I don’t have any interest in tricking students or torturing them with “gotcha” questions on minor details.

During the last several years, I have used a short syllabus confirmation-focused quiz. I set up a True-False series of questions that asked students to confirm they understand basic policies and course setup. Here are some examples:

  • I read and I understand the Short Guide to Technical Writing and the Technical Writing Course Manual, including all information on in the section on “Assessment & Grading Policies.”
  • I understand that this course uses Modules to organize the readings and activities for each week, and I reviewed the page that explains what a Module is in the Short Guide so that I understand how Modules work in this course.
  • I understand the details on Accessibility in this course. If I need special accommodations, I will send a message using the Canvas Inbox during the first week of the course to give you more information.

All straightforward questions, but they aren’t very engaging. Students could easily click True, True, True, down the page without reading the statements carefully or looking for more information on anything they didn’t understand.

I asked colleagues for advice on alternatives. Since my course is fully online and asynchronous, I wanted a new way to get students to read the main details. Susanmarie Harrington, from University of Vermont, suggested The Interactive Syllabus Project. Guy McHendry (Creighton University), creator of the site, explains on the About page:

</SYLLABUS> is an interactive course syllabus built on a popular survey platform. The interactive syllabus is sent to students before the first day of class. The interactive syllabus takes students through all of the material on a traditional syllabus but also asks students questions about their goals, concerns, and questions about the class empowering professors to engage students from day one.

McHendry uses Qualtrics to create the survey for his courses. I liked the approach, but wanted to avoid linking in yet another piece of software. I prefer to keep everything in Canvas and Google Docs. I attempted to set up my questions in Google Forms, but they don’t support images. Since most of the text explanations I used came from my Short Guide, I definitely wanted to keep my images.

I settled on using the Quizzes tool in Canvas. Because the New Quizzes tool has no HTML editor access, I used the classic tool in order to control the layout of the text and images with in-line CSS. The resulting questions include multiple choice and essay questions that ask students to read and respond to the policies and logistics of the course. Where the previous confirmation quiz asked students to affirm their understanding of the Modules system, my more interactive activity explained the Module system and then asked the following:

Do you feel confident about using Modules in this course?

  • I’ve used Modules before, so navigating the course should be no problem.
  • I’ve never used Modules, but I think that understand how they work.
  • I’m not sure I understand, but I’ll try it out.
  • I may need more help before I understand.

The responses students provide with their choices are much more useful than the affirmations of the previous system. Later questions ask students to explain their responses in their own words and offer them the chance to ask about anything they don’t understand. Those who responded to it in my summer course liked the system. The students in my Fall courses are taking the Syllabus Review (as I have named it) this week. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

If you would like to see the full version of the questions, check out the PDF version of the Syllabus Review.