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While attending a course sometime back, I recall an instructor saying, "I need to warn (other instructor's name)...their course syllabus is available to anyone!"

I do not have access to an LMS for my classroom-based course, so I just post my course details to a regular Web hosting service. On the Web site, students, or anyone else, can easily locate:

  • the syllabus
  • exam study guide
  • homework instructions

I cannot think of any reason why this would be a problem, but recall the comment, so wonder if there might be some issue I have overlooked. Is there any reason why any of this information should not be open to the public?

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3 Answers 3

Basically, I would answer no! There are, however, several issues that may prevent people from publishing material openly. One is if it contains copyrighted material, another is if the material contains hints that can help students gain an unfair advantage. In your list, the only possible issue could be with the third if those in any way could lead to an unfair advantage (not that I can think of how). That said, many publish homework questions, lecture materials etc on web sites that can be found by a search. I have benefited from finding such materials when developing my own courses and I am very grateful for that. Returning to your three points, I think they provide a good basis for students to decide what they can expect from the course and hopefully will attract the right students to it.

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As @PeterJansson explains putting material online has many advantages for the students. But I believe that there are two small conditions for this.

First, that the author keeps control of the material. By this I mean that is not just posted somewhere on the internet where the author cannot modify it. This is because usually the material created and typesetted by a single person has not gone through a publishing process and usually has many errors an typos that the author should be able to correct anytime. This is the reason why I believe any uploaded material should always explain the way to contact the author (at least an email address). We all have found note on the web plagued with error that the author either can't correct or doesn't even know they exist.

Second, that the existence of the material and the way to access the last version of it is explained to all the student attending the course. The problem is that we cannot control what happens whith the files once we upload them but at least we can tell students where to get the right version of them.

This is the way to avoid the only way to prevent the only form of unfair advantage I can think of which is some students having a more recent version of the notes or some students not knowing that the notes exist.

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Let me put it this way, if I know of a published book that explains the topic of the course very nicely, do I have an advantage compared to my fellow classmates? One could think that. It is unfair? Not really, anyone could have done the same research as me and find the same book.

Some universities actually encourage professors to publish their class notes. It is a good way of getting prestige, as other professors can base their course plan on yours, or students may find the notes useful. In both cases, it is a very good publicity for the university, and very cheap.

Copyright issues are probably the only possible limitation, but they depend greatly on the subject: for modern English literature, you will need to comment on extracts of copyrighted books, and perhaps you want to avoid any legal fuzz regarding whether you are under fair use or not; but in mathematics there are hardly any copyrights in theorems.

Another reason not to have things public is if you are going to publish them as a book. But that is another ethics debate for another time.

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