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This is a question that has plagued me for a couple of years now. Is it worth it to print a copy of the syllabus for each student? Or, is posting it on my course website good enough? My syllabus contains a good deal of information. I have the homework schedule, online video schedule, office hour info, etc. But, the class is close to 30 students. And printing that many three page syllabuses seems extreme. To make the question more specific, has anyone noticed that printing the syllabus has had a greater effect than not?

EDIT: In response to the comment below, all the students have access to free printing of the syllabus in any number of computer labs.

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    There are some factors that we don't know here: do all your students have easy access to a printer (technically or financially), how many of them own their own computers (laptop/tablet), … – F'x Sep 2 '13 at 18:56
  • For what its worth, as a student I expect to need to print the syllabus for myself. I am always surprised on the rare occasions when the instructor provides paper copies. – J. Zimmerman Sep 3 '13 at 0:37
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First, you should check that your school doesn't have a policy that says instructors must hand out a paper copy of the syllabus to their classes (those policies exist...). Second, you have to think about whether there is anything they need that you can guarantee they've read been handed (e.g., some laboratory students have students sign that they've read the syllabus, for safety reasons). If you don't have to hand out the paper, you should feel confident these days that they can get the syllabus on your class web page.

My current strategy is to forego printing the syllabus for large classes, but to explicitly email the class with a link to the online version (along with a very short introduction). If you want to ensure they get the syllabus, attach it to the email.

For small classes (<20), I have printed out a 1-page "highlights" of the syllabus (my contact info, address for the online version, due dates for assignments, etc.). I may not even do that any more, as I just figure the students are perfectly able to get the information online.

One more thing: on the first day of class, I do go over the important parts of the syllabus, and I also put a copy on the projector as I go over it.

  • I am so surprised that in 2013 some universities still force instructors to hand out printed anything. What is the justification for this? Surely there are plenty of students who will simply throw it away. – earthling Sep 3 '13 at 2:50
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    @earthling My guess is that when a student says "I didn't know about 'blah, blah' policy so I should get a better grade" and whines to the administration, they can say, "It was in the syllabus that you were handed on day 1." In the case of having signed safety forms, I imagine that's strictly for insurance purposes. – Chris Gregg Sep 3 '13 at 4:23
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I know some here will consider this too extreme but I never print my syllabus. If I were in an area where students really had no reliable access to the internet then I might consider it.

Better to get students used to keeping things electronically (and save the environment one page at a time). Of course, some students will want it printed and they can do that for themselves.

I do NOT find that giving a student a printed copy guarantees they have read everything on it. I have read recommendations that teachers should not talk too much about their syllabus in class in order to encourage students to go get a copy and read it. I don't find that to be a good idea either. If there is something you want to make sure they know, by all means put it in your syllabus but actually discuss it in class. However, try to minimize the printing. It really creates a lot of waste.

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    +1 For I do NOT find that giving a student a printed copy guarantees they have read everything on it. – scaaahu Sep 3 '13 at 6:23
  • Poor argument basing your decisions around the environment (trees are grown to be cut and paper is biodegradable). Additionally, the notion that there is no guarantee does not address if handing out a copy increases the percent of students who are aware of your policies. – Harrichael Mar 24 '17 at 22:10
  • @Harrichael: Perhaps you are not considering unsustainable tree harvesting (clear-cutting) which is a serious environmental problem. – earthling Mar 25 '17 at 4:33

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