Please inform me if this needs to be moved to the meta questions forum, I wasn't sure whether this would qualify or not

As I'm sure many lecturers/professors would attest, one of the frustrations of teaching can be the continuous asking of questions that had a student read their syllabus and/or navigated the online learning site, would have most likely been answered.

I spend a lot of time on my syllabus, and even more time on the learning site we use. I have an abundance of extra resources to help students out and everything is neatly organised. Regardless, I still receive countless emails and questions not about the content of the course, but when my office hours are or where my office is, or when is the assignment due, or do they have to attend class, and so on.

In speaking with a number of academics, some of the solutions have been creating assessments based solely on the syllabus, such as a 5% quiz in the first week of class. A colleague of mine who was concerned about students not knowing how to navigate the library created an assessment where students had to go to the library and answer a set of questions.

My faculty is quite strict about assessment tasks though, and I've been informed I can only have a max of 2-3 in my unit, so I'd rather not waste them on a syllabus test.

I was thinking about setting up some online bonus mark quizzes where students who wanted to earn a little extra credit could complete them. They wouldn't be worth much, maybe .5% per quiz, perhaps totaling to a bonus of 2.5% or something similar. They'd be on the syllabus, the learning website, perhaps a research bonus quiz (navigating online databases) and so on.

Other than consulting with faculty policy about the use of bonus marks:

  1. Lecturers/Professors, have you used bonus quizzes/bonus marks? What might be some things I need to consider? Do you think this would at all be effective?

  2. Students, would the opportunity to complete some bonus quizzes for a little extra credit entice you enough to actually read the syllabus and take some time exploring the learning site?

EDIT: My course is a social science course and considered 'subjective' in its content as its qualitative and not quantitative, so no student can earn 100% on their assessments alone. I think the highest marks we can give out are around 94-95, so an additional 2.5% would still keep students under the 100% mark.

  • 1
    When I get such questions, I refer students to the syllabus rather than providing the answer. After a while, they get a clue. Sometimes.
    – Bob Brown
    May 12 '16 at 21:15
  • It sounds like spoonfeeding, is this community college, 4-year college, undergrad, grad student or what? Is teaching them how to use the library (for your course and discipline) your job or the library's job?
    – smci
    Jan 13 '18 at 21:43
  • The standard time-honored solution is to write a class FAQ, make that one of the first class handouts, read it in class, reference it in your email SIG, just reference the URL in response to any questions covered by it. Make sure it's clear, concise and covers the questions. Break stuff into sections like "How to Use the Library", "Assignments", "Grading", "Attendance" etc. etc. Ask your students and TAs in your end-of-term assessments how the FAQ can be improved.
    – smci
    Jan 13 '18 at 21:43
  • Another standard technique was on the first couple of assignments, to give them some basic tasks (e.g. "Using the library, find the answers to X, Y, Z") which carried no weight, or almost no weight - but don't necessarily tell them that upfront. Or tell them (in the FAQ) that if they're borderline at the end of semester, you may take their responses in assignments into consideration.
    – smci
    Jan 13 '18 at 21:48

I'd avoid setting summative assessments (i.e. for course credit) on topics other than the subject material you expect the students to learn. Doing so might come back to bite you, even if you keep the relative contribution to a final grade as low as you are suggesting.

Perhaps you could spend half of your first lecture rhetorically asking the sort of frequently asked questions that get your goat, while at the same time navigating your course webpage, to show where a student will find the answer to your questions. After reading out five or so of the most commonly asked questions, the students will get the message:- the answer is likely to be on the webpage. Look for it.

  • 1
    That's a good idea. I do have a FAQs up on the learning site but perhaps actually reading them aloud/showing students exactly where things are on the learning site will get the message across :)
    – awsoci
    May 11 '15 at 21:20

As I'm sure many lecturers/professors would attest, one of the frustrations of teaching can be the continuous asking of questions that had a student read their syllabus and/or navigated the online learning site, would have most likely been answered.

Ha ha! Yes, it really happens all the time.

Regardless, I still receive countless emails and questions not about the content of the course, but [...] where my office is

My students typically wander at the opposite side of the university with respect to my office and when they eventually succeed in finding me, I ask them: haven't you read the location of my office on the syllabus on the course website? I let you figure out what the answer is...

Students simply don't read page-long bureaucratic information.

In speaking with a number of academics, some of the solutions have been creating assessments based solely on the syllabus

I don't like this idea nor that of bonus quizzes.

To solve this problem, this year I've decided to remove the syllabus altogether (no one reads it anyway) and to send updates by email to all the students (e.g. hey guys, the new homework is online and is due by etc.). Every email should contain just one piece of information and have a length of just a couple of lines. As for the office hours, they are by appointment and I give office directions when they ask for it.

  • 2
    Gosh I would love to not have a syllabus. Unfortunately, the faculty stipulates that everything important must go in the syllabus in addition to the learning website and we can't get rid of the syllabus. The problem with email is that I have 300+ students in my classes, so while I utilise the posting system on the learning website which automatically emails all students, they still feign the old 'oh I didn't get the message'.
    – awsoci
    May 11 '15 at 21:22

Not sure if this applies, but any school that would support tangential "assessments" such as a participation/attendance score would surely fund no fault with this second cousin, which would have the fringe benefit of raising awareness of the very sort of policies that such a participation score is likely to be measuring. I have taught at numerous universities that have tried both ends of this assessment spectrum, from read-for-detail "quizzes" in the first week to contract-mimicking "I read it and understand" signature pages to detach and turn in.

I'm contemplating one that forces a detailed perusal: burying a code phrase, Waldo-style, in a random location deep within the syllabus along with instructions to send me that code phrase in an e-mail (to establish their knowledge of my e-mail, at yet another school in which at least two colleagues have nearly identical addresses) after receiving verbal instructions to read the syllabus cover to cover "and do what it asks you to do" on opening day, just to try out such a novel approach.


I have indeed given bonus points for questions from the course syllabus and it seemed to resolve the problem that you described (although I never did a formal before-and-after test, I did get a subjective impression that after I implemented this, I was much more rarely bothered by students asking questions on what is clearly on the syllabus).

However, I implemented my system with some slight but very crucial differences from what you described, that seem to have resolved your concerns:

  • First, some background: in many of my classes (mainly for undergraduate students), I begin the class session with a reading quiz of around 5 multiple choice questions. These are low-level comprehension questions based on the assigned reading simply to make sure that they read the assigned material. I do not ask any tough questions that require deep understanding--only very surface questions with the aim that if they actually read, they should get 4/5 or 5/5, but if they didn't read, they should not be able to guess more than 1 or 2 correctly.

  • To this reading quiz, I add a bonus question taken from the course syllabus (e.g. when are my office hours; or what is the deadline for the 1st milestone of the semester project). With this bonus question, there are 6 questions in the reading quiz.

  • I still score the quiz out of 5. So, if they got 4/5 of the regular questions plus the bonus syllabus question correct, their score is 5/5. (If they get 5/5 + the bonus correct, I still give them 5/5, not 6/5.)

The advantages of this system:

  • I do not dedicate any extra time, whether as a dedicated assessment or class time, to getting them to read the syllabus. I simply inform them of the bonus questions from day one and then the syllabus assessment is built into whatever assessments I've already designed.

  • Because I give my regular quizzes throughout the semester, students are motivated to read the entire syllabus early on in the semester and they are also motivated to refresh themselves on the details all the way up to the last regularly scheduled assessment.

All that said, as you have noted, the idea of assigning course credit points for syllabus content is controversial to some people. However, I have no problem with it. I firmly believe that students who are well aware of the syllabus learn more in the class, because the syllabus is designed to maximize their learning experience. So, I believe that giving bonus points for knowing the syllabus content indirectly but very meaningfully increases their learning, and so is well justified.

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