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The Syllabus Special | TAPP 75

by Kevin Patton

The Syllabus Special

TAPP Radio Episode 75

Episode

Episode | Quick Take

The syllabus is an important instructional tool that sets the tone and provides guidance for the entire course. Host Kevin Patton discusses various aspects of a course syllabus in a comprehensive, extended episode featuring classic and fresh segments.

  • 0:00:49 | The Syllabus Special
  • 0:03:32 | Sponsored by AAA
  • 0:04:22 | Weird Word: Syllabus
  • 0:06:41 | Do Students Read the Syllabus?
  • 0:13:23 | Reading & Raiding the Syllabus
  • 0:27:32 | First-Day Activities
  • 0:45:32 | Basic Elements of a Syllabus
  • 0:58:40 | Sponsored by HAPI
  • 0:59:33 | More Things to Put in a Syllabus
  • 1:10:59 | Link to Other Resources
  • 1:18:58 | Sponsored by HAPS
  • 1:19:40 | Professionalism as a Course Goal
  • 1:22:41 | Syllabus Warnings
  • 1:38:03 | Nuzzel Newsletter
  • 1:39:07 | Safety Advice
  • 1:59:35 | Pronouns
  • 2:02:22 | Long-Long Syllabus
  • 2:07:32 | Staying Connected

survey

Episode | Listen Now

Episode | Show Notes

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. (John Dewey)

 

Weird Word: Syllabus

2.5 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that first appeared in Understanding How We Learn, A Chat with Yana Weinstein & Megan Sumeracki | Episode 27.

Which is correct: syllabuses or syllabi? The answer may surprise you! Nevertheless, now’s a good time to think about tweaking your course documents for the fall semester.

letters

 

Sponsored by AAA

1 minute

A searchable transcript for this episode, as well as the captioned audiogram of this episode, are sponsored by the American Association for Anatomy (AAA) at anatomy.org.

Searchable transcript

Captioned audiogram 

Don’t forget—HAPS members get a deep discount on AAA membership!

The Anatomy Now Weekly issue with accessibility resources: my-ap.us/30tnHHH

AAA logo

 

Do Students Read the Syllabus?

6.5 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first aired in The Syllabus Episode | Bonus | Episode 24.

Do students read the syllabus? Maybe half? It’s the other half who drive us nuts. Wait! do we always read the directions before asking questions?

What is a syllabus? It can be different things, right? Why do administrators seem to love the syllabus so much?

 

Reading & Raiding the Syllabus

14 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first aired in The Syllabus Episode | Bonus | Episode 24.

Some general considerations when designing a syllabus include make sure that students can both read the syllabus through, and raid the syllabus for key information when they need it. The key is simplicity and logic in syllabus design.

 

First-Day Activities

18 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first aired in The Syllabus Episode | Bonus | Episode 24.

Is it just “here’s the syllabus; see ya next class”—or is it an engaged look at important syllabus elements? The first day of class is key to starting things off on a good foot. What I learned from Krista, Michael, and Richard—and my own sideways twist on those first steps. What about a syllabus quiz? Is that a good or bad idea?

lecture hall

 

Basic Elements of a Syllabus

13 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first aired in The Syllabus Episode | Bonus | Episode 24.

What exactly goes into a syllabus? Who decides? What are the essentials? This isn’t comprehensive, but it gets us started.

who needs a syllabus?

 

Sponsored by HAPI Online Graduate Program

2.5 minutes

The Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction—the MS-HAPI—is a graduate program for A&P teachers, especially for those who already have a graduate/professional degree. A combination of science courses (enough to qualify you to teach at the college level) and courses in contemporary instructional practice, this program helps you be your best in both on-campus and remote teaching. Kevin Patton is a faculty member in this program. Check it out!

nycc.edu/hapi

NYCC Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction

 

More Things to Put in a Syllabus

11.5 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first aired in The Syllabus Episode | Bonus | Episode 24.

Frank O’Neill recommends video walk-throughs, which have the added benefit of letting students know that you really do care about them. Consider also a table contents, abstract/summary, and/or index if the syllabus is long. How about a disclaimer, some playful tidbits, and links to external resources. And make sure your supervisors know what’s in your syllabus!

 

Link to Other Resources

8 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first aired in The Syllabus Episode | Bonus | Episode 24.

Consider putting hyperlinks or URLs in the syllabus to take students to other resources. Consider linking to a FAQ page, wher you explain your rationals for doing things the way that you do them in your course.

 

Sponsored by HAPS

1 minute

The Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS) is a sponsor of this podcast.  You can help appreciate their support by clicking the link below and checking out the many resources and benefits found there. Watch for virtual town hall meetings and upcoming regional meetings!

Anatomy & Physiology Society

theAPprofessor.org/haps

HAPS logo

 

Professionalism as a Course Goal

3 minutes

This segment is adapted from the featured segment in Communication, Clarity, & Medical Errors | Episode 55.

Sometimes a student frets about the A&P course being “not a spelling course” or “not an English course” — but professional communication is an essential skill for health professionals. Why not add this statement to our syllabus and/or other course documents?

Here’s an example of an item from my syllabus learning outcomes and objectives from my Pre-A&P course related to professionalism:

  • work independently in a self-paced online science course
    • succeed in taking online tests and exams
    • communicate in professional scientific language, including correct spelling and usage of terminology
    • exhibit ethical professional behavior, including academic integrity

Useful links:

class

 

Syllabus Warnings

15.5 minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first published in Warnings & Safety Tips in the A&P Syllabus | Episode 57.

Kevin usually has a Warnings! page in his syllabus or other course documents. It contains three warnings about, and rationale explaining, some important things a student should know before continuing in the A&P course. There is shouting involved.

working together

 

Nuzzel Newsletter

1 minute

In the Nuzzel Newsletter for The A&P Professor, host Kevin Patton selects daily headlines that may be of interest to anatomy and/or physiology faculty. This Nuzzel newsletter is published five days a week (more or less).

To check out the archives of past Nuzzels, or to subscribe, go to: nuzzel.com/theAPprofessor

Or fill out the form…

Nuzzel newsletter

 

Safety Advice

20.5  minutes

This segment is adapted from a segment that was first published in Warnings & Safety Tips in the A&P Syllabus | Episode 57.

We’re held responsible (at least in part) for the safety of everyone in our classroom. How best to prepare for and facilitate safety?

fire extinguisher inside

 

Personal Pronouns

2.5 minutes

Introducing our own preferred gender pronouns opens the door for including the personal pronoun preference of student (should that be important to them) and can help connect with our students in ways that improve the learning environment.

 

Long-Long Syllabus

5 minutes

A syllabus could become massive. As with the massiveness of an elephant, the large size may be “just right.” But maybe not. There are ways to reduce the size of a syllabus without losing any important content. And there ways to make a large syllabus easier to read and easier to raid. This segment revisits some ideas brought up in earlier parts of this episode.

Need help accessing resources locked behind a paywall?
Check out this advice from Episode 32 to get what you need!

Episode | Transcript

The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music.  Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the audio player provided.

AAA logoThis searchable transcript is supported by the
American Association for Anatomy.
I'm a member—maybe you should be one, too!


Kevin Patton:
In his book, Experience and Education, the education philosopher, John Dewey wrote, “Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.”

Aileen:
Welcome to the A&P Professor, a few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with a veteran educator and teaching mentor, your host, Kevin Patton.

Kevin Patton:
This episode is all about the course syllabus. …

Kevin Patton:
I’m giving you fair warning. This is a long episode. I should say, a long, long episode. On my scale, two longs is pretty long, but not nearly as long as a long, long, long episode. Nor as long as an episode with my maximum rating of four longs.

Kevin Patton:
Coming in at a little over two hours. This episode is about as long as a, I don’t know, a kind of longish movie. But will be shorter than those three hour evening or Saturday classes that we teach sometimes. And the thing is with a podcast, you can always hit pause at any time, and then come back later and take another bite. And besides that, every episode of this podcast, including this one is broken down into segments, which make for naturally pausing points, right?

Kevin Patton:
This episode is mostly what I call a classic episode, meaning there’s a lot of content pulled straight out of various past episodes. Sort of like reruns of selected segments that all support the same theme. And then at the end of this episode, I’ve also spiced it up with a bit of new content as well.

Kevin Patton:
But to keep in mind that because each segment is plucked from a past episode, some of the references may seem odd now. For example, Eisenhower is no longer president. This special episode is all about syllabuses. Something most of us have on our minds right now. It’s a collection of ideas from various episodes, mostly based on my training and experience of teaching over several decades…

Read More

Kevin Patton:
Some of these things you’ll agree with or find helpful. Perhaps already implementing them in your own syllabus. And some things you’ll disagree with, I know you will. Maybe even vigorously disagree with whichever camp you’re in. I want to hear from you. We want to hear from you.

Kevin Patton:
So take a few notes and call the podcast hotline at 1-833-Lion-Den, that’s 1(833)546-6336, or send an audio file, or written message to podcast@theAPprofessor.org.

Kevin Patton:
I can give that contact info again later, but for now there’s the sponsor break coming up. So leave the podcast running and go pop yourself a big bowl of popcorn and get ready for a classic.

Kevin Patton:
A searchable transcript, and a captioned audiogram of this episode are funded by AAA, The American Association for Anatomy. Did you know that AAA has a weekly version of their newsletter called, Anatomy Now? It often has some really interesting, and some really useful stuff for the typical A&P Professor. For example, the July 29th issue has an amazing and very comprehensive list of resources on accessibility. They did this as a salute to the Americans with Disability act or ADA on its 30th anniversary. There’s just all kinds of cool stuff at anatomy.org, go check it out.

Kevin Patton:
In the opening there, you just heard me say syllabuses. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Why do I even listen to this guy? He can’t even get the simplest terminology correct. Doesn’t he realize that the plural form of syllabus is syllabi.”

Kevin Patton:
Well, it’s true that I often get things wrong, especially pronunciations of terms an issue I brought up before with y’all’s. Wow. I just said, “y’all’s.” I picked that up when I briefly lived in Galveston and it hardly ever pops out anymore, but there you go, I can’t even get the proper and correct form you all out there.

Kevin Patton:
But getting back to syllabus, I didn’t know until recently that in English, the correct plural form of syllabus is syllabuses, and syllabi, either one is correct. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone actually say syllabuses. And maybe before listening to this episode, you hadn’t heard it either, or either. Turns out that the English word syllabus was coined way back in 1650 from a modern Latin word that was itself formed sort of by mistake, by several misreadings and misinterpretations of some similar sounding Greek words.

Kevin Patton:
So once it appeared in Latin, it then took on a Latin plural form syllabi. But remember we’re speaking English, not Latin. While it’s true that in academia in general and the life sciences in particular, we like to use the Latin plural forms. When it comes right down to it, we’re still speaking English, right? So it’s syllabi, if you want to preserve the Latin flavor—and who doesn’t? But it’s also perfectly fine to use syllabuses as the plural form. Both are okay, really. But hey, if you’re ever confronted with this choice in a game of Jeopardy, you’re on your own with the judges.

Kevin Patton:
I know what you’re thinking, “Do students read the syllabus?” I’m guessing maybe half of them do. And you know what, half isn’t so bad, that’s batting .500, I’ll take that.

Kevin Patton:
It’s the other half the ones who don’t read the syllabus, who drive us nuts. Pam, I have another question. Do we read directions? Or do we just ask our chair, or director, or dean, or office administrator, or colleague in the next office, or at the next desk? I do that all the time. Instead of looking it up, I just asked somebody because that’s the quickest thing. And I think our students often do that.

Kevin Patton:
So I’m kind of starting out with the idea that empathy thing that I’m always harping about. Maybe we should put ourselves in our student’s shoes. Think about all those times when we don’t read the directions either and we’re just asking somebody, because that’s the easiest route.

Kevin Patton:
And when we think of it that way and then put on our warmest, sincerest smile and try to answer them in a voice other than that snarky one inside our heads. Then maybe we’re going to connect better with our students. And we can also embed in there just the gentle reminder that they could’ve found the answer in the syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
Okay so here’s another question, what is a syllabus? Well, there are different kinds of syllabi or syllabuses. If you prefer that, it could be just basic course policies. Plus, probably a list of important elements in the course like an overview of the content, or other kinds of things like that. And we’ll talk more about what can go into a syllabus later.

Kevin Patton:
But there’s another kind of syllabus that’s a more comprehensive, maybe a very, very detailed outline of the entire course. Sort of like a textbook, or a course manual, a course pack.

Kevin Patton:
Well, that’s not the kind of syllabus I’m going to be discussing here. I’m talking about the first kind where it’s a hopefully rather brief listing of course policies and different important facts about the course that students are going to need to refer back to later, or we’re going to want them to refer back to them later. And we’re going to hope that they refer back to them later and about half of them are going to refer back to it later. And the other half, we’re just going to have to guide them back to it.

Kevin Patton:
There are some syllabi that of course are somewhere in between the short, just the facts type of syllabus, and the long textbook kind of syllabus. But I’m aiming at that shorter end of the spectrum.

Kevin Patton:
And you know, it seems like administrators love the syllabus more than any of the rest of us. Why is that? Well, I think there’s a bunch of reasons, and I think it varies of course from one administrator to another. But I think a lot of them like the idea, or at least are aware of the idea that it’s sort of a contract. I mean, it really does have some legal ramifications. If you put down that things are going to be a certain way and they’re not a certain way. Well, that kind of opens you up, doesn’t it? To student complaints and maybe even some legal action at some point that you didn’t deliver what you said you were going to deliver.

Kevin Patton:
And we’re going to circle back to that a few different times as we kind of go through some of the topics that I have for us in this episode.

Kevin Patton:
When a student has an issue or complaint, the first place an administrator looks is the syllabus because that’s where we laid everything out, because often student complaints are about us not fulfilling their expectations, right?

Kevin Patton:
Those expectations really ought to be based on what we’ve put in the syllabus. So an administrator is going to go back there and see, “Well, what did you tell the students that you are going to deliver to them or do for them?”

Kevin Patton:
And so that’s why administrators like to have your syllabus on file. Generally, the rule of thumb is if it’s in the syllabus by golly, you better do it that way. There are some legitimate ways to change things after the syllabus goes out, and I’ll address that later. But the point of the syllabus is at least for administrators, is that your statement of what you’re going to deliver.

Kevin Patton:
So if a student comes in with a complaint. They kind of have a point, if you haven’t been following the syllabus, or at least updating them with any changes you’ve made to the syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
So if you’re not following your syllabus, that means you’re now on the defensive. So I think most administrators, they’re expecting when they go to the syllabus to see that while the student didn’t really look at or fully appreciate what it was that they were supposed to expect, and they get that all ironed out and everyone lives happily ever after.

Kevin Patton:
But if you’re not following your syllabus, that means you are now on the defensive. As if you didn’t already feel like you’re on the defensive by virtue of the fact that an administrator is handling a complaint against you. That kind of underscores the importance of a syllabus, it gives you a certain mindset you want to have as you’re constructing or editing or tweaking your syllabus. And it also kind of explains why administrators feel that the syllabus is very important.

Kevin Patton:
By the way, it’s also why schools sometimes suggest or demand certain things be addressed in your syllabus, or even that certain wording be used in every syllabus. And some schools or some programs and departments even have a template where the instructor has maybe very little leeway in what they can do in the syllabus. And I think that has a lot to do with this idea that it sets the expectations for the students. And I think administrators feel like they want to make sure there are certain things in there so that students don’t have these expectations that are far different than what the reality is.

Kevin Patton:
I want to take a couple of minutes to discuss some general considerations about the syllabus. The first one is what I call the read and raid principle, which I also apply to text books.

Kevin Patton:
The “read and raid” principle states that students may not always read the syllabus all the way through, but they will raid the syllabus when they need to find something. And I think if we keep that in mind, I think we’re going to have a well-designed syllabus, because we know that yeah, some students are going to read it from beginning to end, especially if they’re enthusiastic about the course, or even if they’re very worried about the course, those are both strong motivators to read that syllabus all the way through. But we know that half, maybe more than half, are not going to read it all the way through. But I think most students, at some point, raid through the syllabus to look for a deadline, if that’s what you have in your syllabus, a policy, how many tests are there going to be, is the exam going to be comprehensive or cumulative?

Kevin Patton:
And so they’re, they’re raiding it all the time. And so it’s important whether they’re going to be reading or raiding it, to there’s some particular things with your syllabus. For example, I strongly recommend that we organize it as logically as possible. That does two things. It makes it easy to read because it’s sort of like a little story. And I’ve talked about storytelling before and how important that is.

Kevin Patton:
So if it’s arranged logically where one thing sort of logically leads to the next, then I think students are going to be able to get all the way through it, if they’re trying to read the whole thing, and they’re going to understand it more clearly. But organizing it logically also does something else, it makes it easy to raid because organizing it logically means things are going to be easy to find right away when you go in and raid, you don’t have to flip through and read this part and that part, and get all confused and be more likely to go to the dean and complain that your syllabus cannot be read and so how could anyone expect to be able to follow the course or follow the teacher or whatever they’re complaining about.

Kevin Patton:
So how do we do that? Well, I mean, use storytelling principles where you have a beginning, middle, and end. Where you have an introduction, and you have a conclusion, and where all of the things make sense as you move from one to the other.

Kevin Patton:
Another helpful tip is to keep the principle of chunking in hand. Chunking, of course, is when you take a big mass of information and break it down into tiny digestible pieces. So instead of having a paragraph that is half of a page long, that lists all kinds of information about some course policy, or maybe even a group of course policies, that’s going to be hard to interpret. You want to break it up. Even if each little segment is only one sentence long, that’s better than putting it together into some big, long paragraph.

Kevin Patton:
And so even though we do want to keep our syllabus as short as we can, sometimes a longer syllabus is okay, if it’s chunked properly. As a matter of fact, that will make us syllabus longer by chunking, because you’re spreading things apart a little bit more. And that kind of length in a syllabus, I think is okay, I think that works better than having a short syllabus that’s all packed together and very dense with information and very hard to read.

Kevin Patton:
And so when you do that chunking, of course, you want to make sure that you group those chunks together in a way that makes sense to use our storytelling principles. And another thing that helps a lot, is to not just put them in an order that makes sense, but use subheadings think of them as like little mini chapters in a storybook, and give a title to each chapter. That will make both reading and raiding that much easier, because it kind of gives us an idea of what’s in this section, what’s in this section, and so on. And consider not only using subheadings, but maybe having a couple of different levels of subheadings, where some are indented under the other. So here’s a group, and then there’s a subgroup under that, and so on.

Kevin Patton:
If you do that, you need to make the leveling very clear. A subtle change in the font or the size or something may not jump out at the reader. And maybe this is just a pet thing with me, but I like very bold headings and subheadings, and I like very clear indents or bullets, and if you do use bullets or some other design element like that, make sure they’re simple, don’t use the real fancy things because that just clutters things up and makes it harder to follow.

Kevin Patton:
So just use very, very simple design, but bold subheadings and make sure that the major headings are big, and the next level under that maybe not so big, or not so bold. And make sure that the difference between those different levels can be clearly seen.

Kevin Patton:
But do be careful don’t have too many levels of subheads because then you really start to lose your logical organization. It ceases becoming a simple way to organize and starts to become a complex way to organize. And it makes it harder to read and raid, instead of easier to read and raid. And that takes some extra effort to go through it a couple of times and tweak it and lump things and split things a couple of different ways and see how it flows. And maybe even from semester to semester, or year to year, you go back and find even better ways to do it, and revise it, and be tweaking that. So always be looking at that, and I think we can always improve.

Kevin Patton:
And, there’s that quote from A.S. Byatt that says, “There’s a peculiar, aesthetic pleasure in constructing the form of a syllabus, or a book of essays or a course of lectures. Visions, and shadows of people and ideas can be arranged and rearranged like stained glass pieces in a window, or chessmen on a board.”

Kevin Patton:
And I think that’s a very apt description of what it’s like to put together a syllabus. It needs to be thoughtful. The pieces need to fit together in just a certain way for it to be aesthetically pleasing and therefore understandable. Or like the chessmen on a board, it matters where they are. It makes more sense if you put them in a place where they belong, in a place where they’re going to be able to get their objectives met.

Kevin Patton:
Another bit of advice is to keep the language simple. And I think this is a really hard one for most of us academic types, because we’re kind of trained in scholarly work. Even other kinds of educational activities like writing up policy statements, and accreditation reports and things like that. We feel like we need to use highfalutin language. And for a syllabus, I don’t think that’s a good idea.

Kevin Patton:
Remember, even though your dean wants you to write a syllabus, your audience is the student. One of my things I really harp on a lot is, do not utilize the word utilize. If you have a word that ends in I-Z-E. Think about it again, and you probably don’t need it.

Kevin Patton:
Why would you utilize anything when it would be far easier to just use it? So use the word, use. Don’t utilize the word, utilize. And that is an over-utilized, oops, overused term, I think, you and I understand it. It doesn’t jump out at us necessarily. … Well, I’ll be honest, that jumps out at me because I just hate the word utilize. But other kinds of highfalutin language don’t necessarily throw me off. I can follow it, I can understand it just fine.

Kevin Patton:
But beginning students, and especially those I teach at the community college. There are a number of them that have a variety of challenges. Maybe they’re under-prepared, maybe they’re struggling with English period. So we want to use the simplest language possible. So that takes extra effort for those of us that have reached a certain level of education to go back and simplify the language.

Kevin Patton:
And I like to use informal language. Now, not super informal, that includes like slang and other kinds of things. Because number one, slang terms and things like that, are not always understood by everyone. And so we want to leave it out for that reason, but we don’t want to get overly informal. But somewhat informal, I think, is more likely to engage a student. It’s more likely to draw them in. It’s more likely to give them a warm, fuzzy feeling about you. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but as you hunt around, surf around on websites, you will notice that there’s kind of a trend and even very serious websites to start using kind of playful language and informal language. Even in the little popup warning notices and so on, instead of saying, “You have done this wrong.” It’ll be, “Oops, it looks like something went wrong.” And, it’s a little more informal. So I suggest we try to find ways to apply that to our syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
And sort of going hand in hand with that is a principle that I think is very important for all of our teaching, but certainly for the syllabus. And that is to try, and try, and try, to think like a student. I think most of us don’t really take that extra step. I catch myself all the time forgetting to do this to think, “Well, what, what does this look like from the student perspective?” Because I’m me, and so I look at it from my perspective, and I know all kinds of stuff. I’ve been in a lot of classes. I’ve taught a lot of classes. I’ve been in workshops, where they talk about course materials and things like that. So all of this makes sense to me. I know what the lingo means. I know the kinds of things that are going to be important to me as a student because I’ve done it before and I’ve run into issues before, and I know the kinds of questions I want to ask and so on.

Kevin Patton:
But a beginning student, and a student who’s not necessarily very competent as a student, competent being a student, isn’t going to be there. So you need to stop and think like they think. And whenever I’m thinking of this concept and trying to develop this skill in myself. My mind always goes back to one of my heroes, Temple Grandin.

Kevin Patton:
I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with Temple Grandin, and there was a movie that won, I don’t know, a Golden Globe, or something. Claire Danes played the role of Temple Grandin. She’s a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, but she is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

Kevin Patton:
I first got to know her work through her animal science, as I’ve mentioned a number of times in previous episodes, I used to be a wild animal trainer, and I’ve always had an interest in this. And in my study of animal training, and in my observation of animal trainers, the ones who are really good are those who are able to think like an animal.

Kevin Patton:
A lot of us with our pets, we sort of anthropomorphized them and think, “Well, why did he do that? That’s a silly thing to do for my dog to do.” Or, “That’s a silly thing for my cat to do. Why didn’t they …” We kind of project on them, the feelings and the thought processes that we as individuals have. And not only is that wrong to assign that kind of thinking to another species, it’s wrong to do that to other members of our own species.

Kevin Patton:
And Temple Grandin … If you’re interested in any of this, and I think even if you’re not going to apply it to animals, and I think probably many of my listeners have animals in their lives anyway. But even if you’re not going to apply it there, read it in the sense of how we deal with other people, our colleagues and our students. And the book I would start with is one called, Animals in Translation. And I’ll have a link to that in the show notes, and at the episode page.

Kevin Patton:
That’s how I first got to know about Temple Grandin. Most people know her from her other work, and that is as an autism spokesperson, because she is on the autism spectrum herself. And she’s also very well spoken, in terms of being able to express what it’s like to live, and work, and deal with the world. Being on the autism spectrum, she’s a very popular speaker and she’s written several books on that end. So if you’re interested in that angle too, and I’ve read some of her work that way, and I’ve heard her speak, even had a brief conversation with her about animal training one time.

Kevin Patton:
I think that you’ll find that she really gets it. And I think that professors that I have run into, who really get it, who are really successful in connecting with their students, they have that same view. They have that same ability to at least occasionally step out of their own mind and try to figure out “Well, what is it that being an obstacle for my student to understand something.” And so if you have that mindset while you’re doing your syllabus, you’re going to have a very logical syllabus. It’s going to be very simple. It’s going to be very plain.

Kevin Patton:
Now in a few minutes, I’m going to share a method I use to help figure out things that I’ve missed, or hadn’t foreseen how students are going to read things. So wait for that.

Kevin Patton:
Syllabus Day, that’s what most students think the first day of any class is going to be right? “It’s Syllabus Day, we just go in, we get the syllabus, we go out.” And I think in a lot of classes, that really is the way it is. So no wonder students think that. But that’s not the way my first day is, and I think a lot of you listening probably don’t do exactly that either.

Kevin Patton:
But the syllabus, I think is an important element of that first day, right? Because that’s a summary of what the course is, and what it’s going to be like for the student. So I think at least some time needs to be spent in at least distributing it, but probably spending a little bit of time with it. Maybe not the whole class, but a little bit of time with it is a good thing.

Kevin Patton:
Now, my friend Krista Rompolski sent me the PowerPoint that she uses on her first day, where it sort of outlines how that first day is going to go. And it’s a variety of different things that she does. But one of the things that she does that I really like is that she pulls out of the syllabus, some key facts. What are the essential facts that students are probably wondering about anyway, and even if they hadn’t thought of it themselves, things that Krista knows they’re going to want to know right away.

Kevin Patton:
So basic things about how many exams there are going to be, what they need to do first before they get any further, extract out that important information. Like I can read the rest of it later, but what do I need to know for this week? So what do you need to know now? That’s always a good thing to emphasize.

Kevin Patton:
Another thing that Krista does that I think is an excellent idea, is she spends a few minutes with some general tips on how to succeed in the course. And one I really like, she has a slide that recommends to students, “Be a two year old again, ask why.”

Kevin Patton:
She emphasizes to the students that when you’re doing your reading, when you’re working your problems, and your questions and so on. When you’re doing your lab work, when you’re listening to an explanation of something, imagine that you need to be able to explain to someone, maybe a two year old, the how and the why of what you’re learning. And if you can do that, that’s going to take you where you need to be to see that big picture of what’s going on. And that enables you, I think, to see the connections and so on.

Kevin Patton:
So that’s an excellent bit of advice to start students off is to give them a mindset. And if nothing else, it’s going to get them to do a little metacognition, right? They’re going to start thinking about how they think about things. They’re going to get knocked out of that typical pose of, “Well, I’m just going to read fact after fact, and somehow it’s going to all fit together.” And she’s saying, “No, no, no, no, don’t do that. Think about how it fits together. What’s the why behind it? What’s the how behind it?”

Kevin Patton:
So I think that’s a great part of the first day process and that kind of fits in with what’s going on with the syllabus. And I’ll have to say, the last slide that she puts up there on that first day is great. She states on that slide, “I am ALWAYS” … And always is in capital letters. “I am ALWAYS here to help you.” And she says, “It’s the fun part of the job.” And I totally agree with that.

Kevin Patton:
But then she follows up with, and this is important, I think. “But first I’ll ask you to help yourself.” And she refers back to her first slide, which has a quote that says, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” That’s a great way to end so-called syllabus day, right? I think so.

Kevin Patton:
I’ve done something kind of weird in my classes. And this is something that I picked up at a HAPS conference many, many, many, many, many years ago.

Kevin Patton:
My friends, Michael Glasgow and Richard Faircloth, who are retired from Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. They presented what they did. And I kind of changed it around, adapted it, for my course and the way I do things. But general principle, is a great one.

Kevin Patton:
Basically what students do is they just immediately come in and they introduce themselves quickly and say, “Form a group of four or five.” Or, it depends on the size of your class and the way the furniture is set up, and so on. “Just get into a group and introduce yourself, and tell each other, not only your name, but why are you here? Why are you taking A&P?” And, and then have them write down questions about the course that they have coming into it.

Kevin Patton:
I mean, everybody who walks through that door has questions. “What’s the teacher going to be like? What’s the course going to be like? Are we going to have to read the book? Is spelling important?” You know, all those … “How many tests are we going to have? How much are they worth? Can we retake a test?”

Kevin Patton:
All kinds of questions. If they’re doing it in a small group, they’re going to have a lot more questions than if you ask them to do it silently to themselves, or if you do it to the whole group, because they’re going to interact with one another and they’re not going to be afraid.

Kevin Patton:
The whole group, because they’re going to interact with one another and they’re not going to be afraid to interact with one another because it’s just the handful of students, right? And once they start, they’re going to… I have seen this happen numerous times, it happens all the time and that is they just really start going to town like, “Well, I had a professor that once did this, let’s ask him if he does that.” And sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad thing that they’re anticipating. So then and only then they give out the syllabus. Now what I have my students do is appoint someone to come up and get the syllabus for their group. And so they bring it back and then their next task is to take all those questions they wrote down and try to find the answer.

Kevin Patton:
So I’m asking them right then and there to do some writing before they even read it. I’m asking them to read the syllabus and get the answers to their own questions. It gets them familiar with the syllabus. It does hopefully answer most if not all of their questions. And it tells them that there is a place that they can find the answers that they’re looking for. And that it’s not really so hard to answer if I’ve done my job well, I’m making it logical and easy to read, it’s not so hard to find the answers there. So I think that makes it much more likely that they’re going to hold onto that syllabus and really think about it as being a useful resource that they want to keep handy, rather than those instructions that come with, assemble it yourself furniture that I always throw to the side and try to put it together and it never comes out right.

Kevin Patton:
And then I have to take it apart and figure out what I did with the instruction sheet. That’s what a lot of students do with the syllabus and now they won’t because you’re making them go through it right away. And they’re going to say, “Yeah, this is actually useful stuff here.” So after they do all of that, then I regroup the whole class. So now, we’re all together as a single class and I’m addressing them and I ask them, “Okay, what questions couldn’t you find the answer for?” Or “What questions are you not sure about the answer that you found in the syllabus? What can I clarify for you?” Okay, so this is the part where I figure out where I messed up in designing my syllabus like, “Oops, that is an important question and you’re right, that’s not in the syllabus anywhere.”

Kevin Patton:
And I’m going to write myself a little note right now and I always have a pocket full of three by five cards. So I pull out my little deck of three by five cards and I write it down there right in front of them. Modeling and behavior I hope that they’ll do is when they have questions, write it down right away and then they can ask me and not forget about it and totally miss something. So I do that, I write it down and then next time around I’ll add it to my syllabus or something that wasn’t clear like, “Oh, you’re right, that part of the syllabus is not clear. Let me clarify it for you and I’ll make sure I update my syllabus.” So that’s how I find things that I’ve missed or messed up or whatever and then I put it in the next time.

Kevin Patton:
So that’s part of my first day activity and by the way, I have a link to that in the show notes and episode page, if you want to go and see exactly what it is I do on that day, it’s the handout, actually two handouts. Because the one I do for A&P 1 is a little bit different than the one I do for A&P 2. My friend, Krista who sent me the PowerPoint that I just mentioned. She also asked the question about what about a syllabus quiz? Another question she asked is would that come across badly to students? Could that seem maybe a little bit paternalistic or maternalistic or I’m thinking maybe even condescending to have a syllabus quiz like, “This is great school or what?” And I think she’s got a good point. I think that we need to keep that in mind so that if we do a syllabus quiz and I do and I’ll explain how I do it in a minute, it’s not exactly a syllabus quiz. But it is one, that we do it in a way that isn’t condescending, that we don’t inadvertently go off in that direction.

Kevin Patton:
And boy, that’s going to give a really bad first impression of us and our course on the first day. And it’s going to be really hard to reconnect with the students that are put off by that. So very important question to ask ourselves. There are some things like a syllabus quiz that are a sideways approach to a syllabus quiz that I’ve used that have worked well for me. For one thing, I have something called a student understanding. This is something that is either in my syllabus or is linked to/from my syllabus. It’s its own standalone page. And it’s a list of five to 10 things that I really want my students to understand. Things like I understand, I am responsible for my own academic integrity and I understand that I will be held responsible for not following the honor system and so on.

Kevin Patton:
So there’s that, I include things like I understand it is my responsibility to solve problems with my computer connection or with my textbook or with my ride to school or whatever it is that I… It’s up to me to solve that. And if I need help with it, you can ask the instructor but it is my own responsibility. So things like self-responsibility, those really core things that we want to make sure that we’re all on the same page with. And again, I have an example of that in the show notes and the episode page, and you can look and see the kinds of things and it might spark some ideas for the things that you want to list in the student understanding. And so what I do is I take that student understanding and I put it in the form of an online quiz that’s in my learning management system.

Kevin Patton:
But you could do this on paper too and I’ve done that before, before I start using my learning management system many months ago. And so you list each one of them as the question part of a quiz item and then for the answer, they get a choice to either mark on the, I understand or I do not understand. In terms of the technical aspects of how the quiz is set up in the learning management system, I understand is marked is the correct answer and I do not understand is marked as the incorrect answer. So if they mark I understand to, let’s say 10 out of 10 items then they will get a 100% on that quiz, that’s how the learning management system will see it at least. If you use that language, I understand or I do not understand.

Kevin Patton:
They’re not necessarily agreeing to them. They are saying, “I understand that this is so.” In other words, this is the way it is, it’s not up to you to agree to it or not to agree to it. It’s whether you understand that, that’s the way it is and think about the way it’s worded. They have no choice and they’re stating that they understand. And the way I have my learning management system set up is that everything else in the course that comes after that and that’s at the very beginning, is locked up and it’s set so that they have to get a 100% on their understanding quiz in order for everything else to be unlocked. So I want them to understand that before the course starts, not at the very end. So it’s very important that they get that done first before they do anything else.

Kevin Patton:
So they have to get a perfect score in that understanding quiz. And what that quiz does is, well, at least two things. One is, it forces them to read at least those major items. Even if they slept through that first day activity or missed it or something like that, or didn’t pay attention to what was going on or forgot what was going on. And that happens, it forces them to read at least those major items or at least it comes as close to forcing them to read it. I guess they don’t have to read it, but it comes close to doing that. And it really highlights what you think is important for them to understand. And another thing it does is, it serves as a record of their acknowledgement. So later on when you catch them cheating or they said, “Well, I couldn’t do anything last week because I couldn’t get a ride,” or “My internet was out.”

Kevin Patton:
And then you can say, “Well, remember this item in understanding where you said that you understood that you acknowledged this, that it’s your responsibility to find some alternative. If he can’t get a ride or find some other place to connect to the internet if your usual internet connection is down.” That’s the flip side of using that understanding quiz. Now, another thing that I do that is a sideways approach to a syllabus quiz is what I call test zero. And I’ve mentioned this in at least one previous episode, I start off each course with an online test that reviews either what they should have mastered in their prerequisite course, if it’s A&P 1 or what they should have mastered in A&P 1, if we’re now entering A&P 2. So it’s a review of concepts that’s what test zero is.

Kevin Patton:
But I also put in there some syllabus questions. It brings that up again, they’ve already done this on the first day, they’ve gone through that and they might off the top of their head remember some of the answers. But there are things that are important that you put in there and in my online tests are open book, so if they don’t remember the answer, they can go back in their syllabus and find it. By doing all of these things, the understanding quiz, the test zero, the first day activity that my friends, Michael and Richard came up with originally. All is a layered approach to really getting them thoroughly familiar with at least the central elements of what’s in my syllabus. And by the way that test zero does let you ask them things that go to a deeper level or more detailed level than just the core concepts or core ideas that are in the student understanding.

Kevin Patton:
And another thing I want to mention about that test zero before I leave it go, and that is, I sometimes put the questions in the form of a case study item. So for example, I’ll say, “Liliana finds herself in this situation, what should she do?” Like maybe, She’s been asked by another student to help her by whispering her answers during the exam or holding her test out so that the other student can see what her answers are and so on, “What should she do? What’s the right thing.” And of course that’s an obvious one, but sometimes there are gray ish areas that students really don’t know what the right choice is. And this will help them see that in certain situations, what their choice ought to be if they’re following the principles of the course. So I use a lot for academic integrity items.

Kevin Patton:
Some students really just don’t understand that certain forms of cheating are cheating or that they’re wrong, and there are even a handful of students who don’t understand the cheating is wrong. They think, well it’s okay because everybody let us do it in this course or that course or in high school or whatever. Oh, another thing about that test zero again before I leave it and that is, oh boy, I’m always doing that. One more thing, by doing the test zero, it gets them used to how I do my online tests. So they get used to the learning management system, how that system handles online tests. You get used to the way I write my test items and I make sure to include the different kinds of formats of test item that I usually put into my online test, so its good practice that way too.

Kevin Patton:
And yes, they do get a grade for test zero. That is part of their grade, it’s part of their online testing grade that then later gets added to other components of the course like the midterm and final exams and so on. What exactly goes in a syllabus? Well, this is where it gets a bit dicey because all kinds of things can go into a syllabus and all kinds of things are appropriate to go in a syllabus. And it depends on your institution, depends on your program, depends on your course, it depends on you, depends on your students, depends on which semester it is, depends on some spots. All kinds of things can affect what exactly goes into a syllabus. So there’s no way that… Well, this is too long of an episode to begin with, but even if we had all semester, there’s no way we could cover every thing that could go into a syllabus and could be appropriate in one syllabus or another.

Kevin Patton:
But let me hit some of the major points. Somehow all of what goes into a syllabus may be dictated by your institution as I’ve mentioned before, or maybe by your department or your program or whatever. Or maybe a group of professors have gotten together, maybe even in concert with various teaching assistants if you have those or with the students themselves and have come up with some basic principles like, “Let’s all agree to all include this part or that part in our syllabus.” So that it ensures uniformity maybe if that’s something that’s important in a particular area, or maybe it provides a clarity or maybe it’s just a good way to describe something about your own particular program or location or whatever. If you get good advice from a dean or a department chair or senior faculty or any other VIP, then I’d put it in there.

Kevin Patton:
So if you’re chatting with somebody who’s important and they say, “I put this in your syllabus,” I’d put it in my syllabus, unless you have some really good reason not to, and maybe go back and say, “Look, I’m going to do this instead, what do you think about that?” Not in a challenging way though, but in a sincere way like, “What do you think?” Any of that so-called advice is an indirect order I think that’s saying, “Yeah, you better put this in there. I want to see you put this in there.” And they’re just being cordial with you. Sometimes you want to include things like the availability of counseling Title IX procedures, and Oh, by the way, what I mean counseling like mental health counseling or something like that, or academic advising. Various items from the student handbook sometimes those are suggested or required in everybody’s syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
One of the institutions I teach at, some of that stuff is actually involuntarily pushed into our learning management system courses. Everybody’s course gets these little things injected into them, whether we want them to or not, because they want to make sure students are aware of that. And I think I’m not sure that, that’s the best way to handle it, maybe it is, I don’t know. But I think the idea of it is a good one. Speaking of advice from your dean or your chair or whatever, even if they’re not giving you advice that I recommend that you follow, then I would still go and ask them for advice. I would say, “What do you think I should do here?” Or “How does this look to you?” And when you do that, it makes them part of your team.

Kevin Patton:
They feel like they’re part of your team. And so if there are any issues later on, you can say, “Well, you and I talked about this and you didn’t say anything bad about there being a problem, so can you help me fix this because you helped me create it.” I think that’s good and I think that’s also a good opportunity to nurture relationships with the people you work with and the people you work for. Something else that I think really must go in there, and it’s probably pretty obvious but I’ve seen syllabi where it’s left out surprisingly and that is faculty contact info. And I know a lot of professors like to be very limited how the students contact you. And I think that every time you put your faculty contact info in there, well, number one, check it for any updating that needs to be done because that’s usually, if you get a new phone number or email or something else changes, that’s probably the last place that you think of to update while you’re updating things.

Kevin Patton:
But not only that, it’s a good opportunity to review it and also to see, are the choices I’m giving my students really the choices that are going to make it most likely that the students who are really at risk of failing in my course are at risk of having problems in my course? Are these the ways that they’re really going to be able to get ahold of me? And also think about, well, how do students prefer to contact their professor? Because if you don’t give them one of their preferred methods, they might just opt not to contact you at all when they’re struggling. And we want them to contact us when they’re struggling, right? So I think a lot of today’s students prefer emails or even more direct messaging through the learning management system or some other way to do direct messaging. Maybe your college has its own direct messaging system, discussion boards.

Kevin Patton:
For example, the discussion boards in your course maybe have a student cafe or something like I’ve mentioned in a previous episode where they can pop things in. I also have a Kevin’s virtual office discussion always open in my course saying, “Go in and ask that way.” Many students today don’t like picking up the phone and having a track conversation. And I don’t know that students have ever really had as their first choice stopping by your office during your office hours and asking you questions there. If all you have is a phone number and where your office is, then you might be losing some students because they won’t to be able to email you, direct message you. Even though those things may be available, you should list them under your contact info because when they’re wanting to get ahold of you, they might not think of the discussion board that’s in their learning management system.

Kevin Patton:
That’s something to consider on your contact info. Something else to consider would be the resources needed and a lot of schools require that you put this in there. And not just the required textbook if you have one required lab manual, any other kind of supplements whatever that are required. But think about maybe some optional things like you would suggest that, well, it might be a good idea to bring some colored pencils and a sketchpad with you. If we’re going to be doing those kinds of things in anatomy, not necessarily as a required activity, but students may want to do that as they’re taking notes. Or bring a couple different color pens with you to take notes with, because then you can underline, underscored certain things if you’re drawing a diagram more than one color may help you and so on. So things like that, and you might want to tell them, “Okay, you need a textbook,” but tell them whether you expect that textbook to be brought to class or not.

Kevin Patton:
Whether the lab manual needs to be brought to class. If I was teaching a lab, I always put in there not only that they need to bring their lab manual, but they need to bring their textbook because a lot of lab manuals really don’t have all of the information and all of the diagrams and illustrations that are in the textbook. And a lot of those illustrations are very helpful in the lab, so I tell them to bring their textbook. You might also want to list in there what the learning management system is, and if you’re going to use it, how much you’re going to use it. Give them some information on where they can go to figure out how to log in for the first time if they’re a new student at the institution. And maybe even give them some resources on, if run into problems with the learning management system, here’s who you call first, here’s the help desk number or the help desk Gmail or whatever it is.

Kevin Patton:
Something else that considered to put into the syllabus would be a schedule of topics and activities plus the due dates. And this is where… Oh man, there’s a million different ways to do this and it’s going to depend on the way you do things. It’s going to depend on the needs of your students that you can figure out and tweak over time. It’s going to depend on what your program or department expects of you. But this is where you could get into the other end of the spectrum of syllabi where it’s like a little mini textbook. So you might want to think about how much detail you put in there, is it the overview like this week we’re doing this, that week we’re doing that or is it very specific. And different styles work well for different kinds of courses? The more firm the schedule that you can put in there, the better it is.

Kevin Patton:
But if you put a schedule in there you better stick to it. So my schedules that I put in there was always a little bit loosey-goosey. So we always knew what was coming next and roughly when it was coming. But it also gave me some wiggle room if we wanted to stop and do something different for a little while and then move on or something took a little bit longer, and I knew that we could catch up with that time a little bit later in the course. So that’s up to you, think about how you want to construct that. You might want to think about adding in there in the scheduling section, what do we do if there’s a weather emergency or some other kind of emergency that’s going to require a cancellation or a shortened class or something like that. And build in the contingency or at least how any change due to those reasons will be communicated to the students so they know where to look.

Kevin Patton:
If there’s a hurricane and they can’t come to campus and they’re trying to figure out, “Is this course still even going on right now? What should I be doing? Or what are my needs?” In terms of this emergency. Something else that you want to consider putting into your syllabus are the course objectives and/or learning outcomes. I think it’s a good idea to put it in the syllabus or at least link to a separate list of them from inside the syllabus. I know a lot of A&P textbooks and lab manuals and different things have objectives in them already, but do we really do all of those in our course? Aren’t there some that we skip or maybe we do them a little bit differently? Or maybe there are other learning outcomes that we’re expecting that aren’t in the book anywhere?

Kevin Patton:
So I think it’s a good idea to maybe start with those as your basis, but then massage them a little bit to make them fit your course and then put that in the syllabus or an addendum to your syllabus. Oh, and don’t forget the HAPS learning outcomes. If you’re a member of the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society HAPS, then go to the website and download the learning outcomes and take a look at those and those as a model that you can adapt to your own course. Now, those are meant to be a guideline, they’re not meant to be commandments or requirements. They’re meant to be just a place to get started like, “Here’s a whole bunch of ideas why don’t you start with that and take some out and put some in and combine others.” I would recommend that very good resource. Something else you might want to think about putting into your syllabus are safety procedures.

Kevin Patton:
I mean, we talked about the idea of, if there’s a weather emergency, what’s that going to do to our schedule and how are we going to… How is that changing a schedule going to be communicated? Okay, that’s one aspect, but the actual safety advice itself I think is important to put somewhere so that the students have it. I actually go through a little drill on my first day. I feel like a flight attendant where I’m pointing out where the emergency exits are and where the fire extinguisher is and where the fire alarm is to be pulled and how you lock the door if there’s a intruder on campus or something like that and where we’re going to hide and what we’re going to do when we hide. And where the safest place to go in a tornado is, I live in the Midwest where tornadoes are the most likely issue.

Kevin Patton:
We’ve had a few fires in the building that I teach in. So I really talk about where to go in case of a fire. And if that part is blocked, where else can I go. Earthquake where I live in an earthquake zone and we don’t have a lot of earthquakes like they do in some other areas, but we do have them. And so what do we do in this room in earthquake? How are we going to react to that? What if somebody gets sick? How are we going to deal with that? So you put that in the syllabus or some course document linked to the syllabus. I think you’re really serving your students well.

Kevin Patton:
The free distribution of this podcast is sponsored by the master of science and human anatomy and physiology instruction, the HAPI degree. I’m on the faculty of this program and I know that our students learn some great principles of providing a good syllabus. Things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of. Have you had comprehensive training and contemporary teaching practice? I mean, beyond just a course or two here and there? And when was the last time you had a thorough review of all the course concepts of both anatomy and physiology. The fall cohort of this online graduate program is forming right now, check it out at nycc.edu/hapi that’s H-A-P-I, or click the link in the show notes or episode page.

Kevin Patton:
What are some other things to consider putting in a syllabus? Well, here’s a tip that comes from my colleague, Frank O’Neill and he shared this with me and said, “I like to add video clips where I explained certain things in the syllabus.” I think it gets the message across better and they start to get to know me better as well.”

Kevin Patton:
My students know how much I care about them and their success, but you never would have guessed that by reading my syllabus. So he’s talking about the fact that sometimes our syllabus, because we’re trying to keep it brief and to the point that empathy doesn’t always read through. But when you do a video walkthrough and I have a link to a previous episode where I talked a little bit about the idea of a video walkthrough. If you do a video walkthrough of certain parts of the syllabus, maybe showing them where to go in the LMS or different parts of the college website or various things like that. Then it adds that element of your voice in there and your tone of voice and it can really connect with students in that very early part of the course where you’re trying to make the impression that you need to make to have really effective and useful connections with your students.

Kevin Patton:
So what are some other things? Well, if it’s bigger than a few pages, then you might want to consider a table of contents at the beginning or well, maybe add a so-called executive summary. Like Krista does with her PowerPoint presentation on the first day, maybe have a little, here are the main facts you need to know now and a little box at the beginning. And then maybe a table of contents that shows all your headings and subheadings to give the lay of the land so the students know where things are. And if you want to take the time to put in page numbers and so on, then go ahead and do that. Or maybe have an index at the end. And by the way, if you’re using Microsoft Word or some similar software program, these all have built in table of contents functions and indexing functions where all you have to do is highlight the subheadings or at least mark them as subheadings, maybe highlight certain terms or whatever if you’re going to do an index and then you just create the table of content and it populates itself.

Kevin Patton:
And even as you make changes, the page numbers change on a rolling basis. As you edit your document. If you’re doing this online or in the form of a PDF or even a word document, if you’re providing it in a digital form, you’re giving the students the file of it, maybe in addition to a paper version of it, then you can include hyperlinks. That’s where the student can click on any element in the index or in the table of contents or even in the executive summary, and then be taken right to that part of the syllabus and that makes it even easier for the student to read your syllabus. Now, something else to think about too is make sure your supervisors know what’s in your syllabus. Now, many schools it’s required that you turn in your syllabus either before the course starts or early in the course so that takes care of that.

Kevin Patton:
But if you don’t work at a school where that happens, I’d send them a copy anyway, especially if you have anything out of the ordinary that is something that maybe is innovative or unusual in some way out of the mainstream, then they’re going to see that ahead of time. If anything is called into question later, then you have a backup and say, “Well, I gave this to you, I ran this by you first and you didn’t say anything to me then. So let’s start at that point of conversation and move forward from there.” You realize that you’re going to be held to whatever you put in your syllabus so keep that in mind. You might want to consider adding a disclaimer statement somewhere in there, like a disclaimer that admits the idea that there might be a mistake in here and the student shouldn’t expect the instructor to be held to a mistake like, “Oh, I forgot to put this test data in.”

Kevin Patton:
Well, you can’t add it later because it wasn’t in the syllabus. Well yeah, you can. I mean, as long as you communicate that early enough and clearly enough, you don’t want to blindside your students, but you do want to be able to fix mistakes. And you might want to have in that disclaimer, not only, “Well, I reserve the right to correct mistakes,” but you also reserve the right to make changes because there’s all kinds of reasons why changes need to be made in there. One of those weather emergencies I spoke of in an earlier segment, or there’s some other situation on your campus or in your school or in your course that requires a change. Maybe the required textbook didn’t come in on times so you got to make some changes, all kinds of things. And then tell them that it’s their responsibility to be watchful for changes.

Kevin Patton:
So make that part of the disclaimer that students are responsible for keeping track of the current version of the syllabus or for announcements that announced changes to the syllabus. As long as it has in it what you think should be in it, and it gives you enough wiggle room. And it also alerts the students that what is in the syllabus is not written in stone, it could change, we want to be flexible and you’re telling them that ahead of time. Another thing to remember about the syllabus is it evolves. You get better at it, someday I’m going to be really good at it, but my skill and putting together a syllabus has evolved.

Kevin Patton:
I’ve made mistakes and fix them, I’ve made things clearer than they were before. I’ve made them simpler, easier to understand than they were before. Sometimes I muddy them up and then find out have muddied them up and go back to my previous version. Keep that in mind over the years, over the semesters that something you really want to look at and really fine tune and tweak over time. I think it’s like anything, I get better and better making syllabi, I get better and better at teaching, I get better and better at everything. If you come back to this podcast in 10 years, it’s going to be really good. I think it well. And also another thing about this evolution of syllabi is…

Kevin Patton:
And also another thing about this evolution of syllabi is institutional policies change, departmental policies change, program policies change, your own course policies change. And so you want to always read through every letter and make sure that you don’t have the old information. I just was tweaking a syllabus of mine and found that I had some old information in there that I didn’t realize I had never updated. I thought I did. I guess I didn’t. Maybe I, at some point, used the wrong copy or something. I don’t know, but it’s a good thing I was looking very closely, finally.

Kevin Patton:
Another thing that you might want to consider putting in your syllabus is a question in there asking your students, if there’s anything that you, as the instructor, should know about them as individuals. And I’m not talking here about things that are nice to know to get to know you type thing. And if you want to have some kind of activity like that in your course, that’s fine. But what I’m saying here is, is there something that you really ought to know, like some kind of medical condition, some kind of “oh” situation they’re in. I’ve had students that have court orders against stalkers, and these stalkers follow them to school and have been seen on campus since on. I think I that’d be something useful for me to know. I’m going to be especially careful about what I say to whom and how I react to people that seem to be lurking outside the classroom door.

Kevin Patton:
So there are a variety of different kinds of things. I remember having students who said, “I don’t typically do this, but I have my phone on in class. And I have a spouse, a son, a daughter in a combat zone right now. And they can only call me every once in a while. And if I get a call from them, I’d like to be able to leave class and take that call. And is that okay?” So something like that they need to tell me. Or “I’m pregnant. And yesterday was my due date. Things could happen at any moment, but I thought you may want to know.” So things like that. You don’t necessarily have to give all these examples, but just throw it out there. If there’s anything that you think it would be helpful for me to know, then come and tell me. And I would also stress do not tell me in class. Come and tell me directly privately after class, before class in my office, whatever.

Kevin Patton:
Another thing to consider in your syllabus is to consider making it a bit playful. Now I’ve talked this in several previous episodes about how adding playfulness to a course while at the same time being serious can really be conducive to learning, can make the teaching and learning much more effective than it would be otherwise. You could do in your syllabus like that little playful thing I do at the end of most episodes where I’ll say something like “Minor imperfections enhance the handcrafted uniqueness of this, well in this case, syllabus.”

Kevin Patton:
So I actually have a little thing like that in most of my syllabi where it’s mildly humorous kind of annoyingly humored attempt at humor. But it also sort of is a disclaimer saying, “Look, this is something a human did, and it’s going to have mistakes in it. And so I’m telling you, there’s going to be weird things in it.” Or you might say, “No animals were harmed in the making of this syllabus” or some weird thing in there. It kind of lightens the mood, makes that a syllabus that’s very straight and narrow to maybe kind of lightens it up a little bit and kind of breaks the ice a little bit.

Kevin Patton:
Sometimes you could include maybe some kind of little cartoon or playful clip art in there. Make sure it’s something you have permission to use, but that can lighten the mood a little bit too and make your syllabus that much more engaging. Well, what do you mean more engaging? Syllabi aren’t engaging, but at least attempts to make it kind of engaging, doesn’t it?

Kevin Patton:
Something I’ve mentioned in my podcast and my blogs before is a book I ran across many years ago. I think it was from 2003 or something like that, but it’s still relevant. And it’s called Professors are from Mars, Students are from Snickers, and the subtitle is How to Write and Deliver Humor in the Classroom and in Professional Presentations. If you’re not naturally a joke writer and you want to add some humor or some lightness or playfulness in there, read through this book. Ronald Berk does this, and he’s got a lot of really great ideas, and I guarantee you, they will spark some ideas for how to lighten up your syllabus and your other course materials. And I have a link to that in the show notes and on the episode page.

Kevin Patton:
Oh no. I’m not done yet. I still have more ideas. I’ve kind of alluded to this all along in this episode. I really think that a good way to handle some of the information that you’d like to put in the syllabus, but it would just make it too long and complex and nobody’s ever going to read it or rate it because it’s just too big, a way to handle that is by putting in a hyperlink. Maybe not in your syllabus, but maybe on a course webpage in your learning management system or something like that. But it can be maybe an addendum to your syllabus, an extra page or something in your syllabus. It’s just linked to this information and you can create that information yourself and your own course blog, or in your learning management system, put up pages, school, or department website or something. Or you can find external resources that you can link to.

Kevin Patton:
So for example, I think it’s important to link students to places where they can find good study strategies. And I know that a lot of us have this mindset of “Students should already know how to study before they get to my course. My role is to teach them anatomy and physiology and related scientific concepts. My role is not to teach them study skills.” Now I disagree with that. I think that is part of our role. I think that’s part of being a coach. I think that’s possibly our primary role because the content they can get in all kinds of places other than out of our mouth. But how to access it, what to do with it, how to interpret it, that’s our role is to help them figure out how to do that.

Kevin Patton:
I suggest that you put in links. Does your school have courses and study strategies or seminars, maybe even a lunchtime seminar or something on various study strategies? Put a link to that in your syllabus or other document. Do you provide study sessions? Put that in there. There’s all kinds of external resources. Two of them I’m going to give you because they’re mine. I’d like you to use them because that’s why I do them is for people that use them. One is called the A&P Student. It’s a blog and I have a link in the show notes and the episode page. But it’s real easy to get to. It’s just the apstudent.org and that’ll take you right to it. And that’s for students. So you link the students to it and they can explore all kinds of topics in there about how to study the skeleton, how to study histology, how to prepare for exams, how to do all kinds of things.

Kevin Patton:
And then another one that I have is Lion Den, which is actually the first website I ever did. It’s lionden.com. And that’s because our school didn’t have its own website back in the olden days. But I knew that would be a good place to put links to external resources, all kinds of things. And I have a very large library of study skills helps that’s geared particularly toward A&P students at Lion Den. So I have a link to that in the show notes and episode page, or just go to lionden.com.

Kevin Patton:
Another thing that you might want to provide links to are explanation of things that students should probably know if this were an ideal world. But we know this is not an ideal world and mine is not an ideal course, and I’m not an ideal teacher, and I don’t teach ideal students. So there are things like issues of academic integrity, where it continues to surprise me that students think that certain behaviors are okay, and they’re not okay. I think some of them just really don’t understand what plagiarism really is. So I have a link to a site on why be honest, why is that important to you besides the fact that you can get in trouble for not being honest. And I have that link in my show notes and episode page. So you can just use that same link to that little article on why be honest. You might have some other links that you’ve found that explain plagiarism and academic integrity, or you might want to write your own.

Kevin Patton:
Another one that I linked to is a little blog article I did called Why Deadlines are Important because I think sometimes students don’t really understand how that affects their own learning, how it affects the operation of the course, how it affects other students when people aren’t meeting the deadlines. So that might be worth linking to.

Kevin Patton:
How about why correct spelling is important. Take a look at the link that’s in the show notes, and you might want to link that in your own syllabus. There’s all kinds of links you might be able to find on classroom and online etiquette and professionalism that might be helpful. Maybe links to how to do certain kinds of assignments like term papers. And you know, here’s some help with research methods.

Kevin Patton:
Another kind of link you might want to consider is how to use the learning management system or other course tools. There are probably video tutorials or user manuals and so on that you can link to so the student can find them easily and go to them and get their answers answered right away without having to wait for the help desk call them back at an inconvenient time. You might also want to link to resources on how to navigate your school, like the campus map and things, and how to find resources in your school, and where the learning center is, and are there tutors available, and where would I go for them? Are there any open labs available and where would I go? So you can link to all of that.

Kevin Patton:
Something that I started doing a while back that I found very useful is to have a page of FAQs, frequently asked questions, about my course. Some students are going to look at those frequently asked questions on their own. I think most students just sort of ignore it. If they don’t have to look at it, they’re not going to. But at least you can refer the students there when they ask questions. Say, “Well, I explained fully why I do that in FAQ is go look them up.” Or if nothing else you can go use the FAQs yourself as the instructor. So when a student asks you a question and drops a little thing like “I just don’t understand why you give so many tests,” then you can just go into the FAQs, copy of the answer that you posted there, and paste it right into your response to that student and say, “Oh, you mentioned something about so many tests. Well, here’s why I do it” and just drop it right in there.

Kevin Patton:
So what kind of FAQs do I put in there? Well, things like, why do I insist on correct spelling? I explained my rationale. It’s not just because I’m being hard on them. Okay. That’s part of why I do it, but mainly I’m doing it because of the accuracy and the professionalism issue. But you can read that when you look at the link. Another question I put in there is, why am I harder than any other teacher they’ve ever had? Don’t you encounter that comment a lot? “I get A’s in every other class except this one” with the implication that, that’s somehow the teacher’s fault.

Kevin Patton:
Here’s another question. Why do I have to learn about neuro-transmitters if I’m going to be a nurse? In other words, that sort of a stand in for the generic question of why do we need so much detail in A&P? I’m only going to be a this or that. And they don’t see why they need it. And so therefore they must not need it. And so you can address that with them. Another question, why do I give tests in the format that I do? That’s different than some other teachers do or different than what I’m used to. And so on.

Kevin Patton:
Another question is, why is your attendance policy so strict? And I can give my rationale for that. Oh, one of my favorites, what is “desirable” difficulty and why is it important in learning? And I’ve kind of brought that up in some past episodes and I’m going to bring it up again later.

Kevin Patton:
Marketing support for this podcast is provided by HAPS, the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, promoting excellence in the teaching of human anatomy and physiology for over 30 years. HAPS is a dynamic and friendly organization with lots of town hall meetings to chat with colleagues in real time, virtual one-day conferences, an awesome journal with a mix of research and teaching tips, and, well, just all kinds of resources. Go visit HAPS at the approfessor.org/haps. That’s H-A-P-S.

Kevin Patton:
I’ve mentioned my rationale for the importance I place on insisting that my students spell accurately in my anatomy and physiology course. Now I help them learn their spelling, but for me a term is simply not correct. In fact, I think of it as a hundred percent incorrect if it’s not spelled correctly. Now, occasionally I’ll get a student comment that, hey, this isn’t spelling class. The implication being that if it’s not spelling class, then I should not expect correct spelling of terms. Setting aside the faulty logic of that implication, it’s my belief that an A&P course like any college course is indeed a spelling class, not spelling only of course, but spelling is truly a part of it. But you know what? These students do have a point in making that passive aggressive comment about this not being a spelling class.

Kevin Patton:
If we don’t address it in our course materials, ideally in our course objectives or learning outcomes, then yeah, maybe they do have a point. But they can’t effectively make this point in my course if I put it in my syllabus, right? Because that really does make it officially a spelling class, doesn’t it? At least partly spelling class. What I often do is have an objective related to professionalism, and into this, I can fold not only spelling, but also professional communication in general, along with other aspects of professionalism, such as academic integrity and showing up on time and being present in class.

Kevin Patton:
There are other places to emphasize this as well. For example, I usually have a set of FAQs, frequently asked questions, and I put something about spelling and other elements of what I expect for professional scientific communication there in the FAQs. I also have a resource that helps students deal with the logistics of taking my online and in-class tests and exams. So I put something there also about checking the spelling of a test item that’s been scored as incorrect, but seems to look okay. Maybe it’s misspelled. And as I mentioned in the transparency episode, episode 51, I’m all about giving rationales for why I do the things I do in my course. So there’s another opportunity to explain that my requirements for a professional level of spelling and usage of terminology is part of my general goal of teaching professionalism, along with a concern for medical accuracy and the impact of that on preventing medical errors. In short, it’s because I want to save humanity.

Kevin Patton:
I thought I’d share some warnings that I put into my syllabus in a special section called, well, it’s called Warnings! with an exclamation point. These are things that I want to get out there and get students thinking about right away. I talk about these too, but I like to have them in my syllabus because I want them available to students all the time, and putting them in the syllabus emphasizes that they’re important, right? I put a handout with the syllabus warnings in the mobile app, which I call the TAPP app. So you can read along if you want. Just pause this audio, open up the handout in the app, and then resume the audio.

Kevin Patton:
To help distinguish what I actually put in my syllabus from my general discussing of things in this segment, I’ll put some mood music under the passages I’m reading from my syllabus so you know that I’m reading from my syllabus when you hear the music. Okay, here’s the first of my three warnings.

Kevin Patton:
This course is about the human body. There will be graphic images and frank descriptions and discussions of body parts and body functions. This means nudity. In the images, not in class, silly. Discussions of sex, urine and urination, feces and defecation, spitting, sneezing, snoring, farting, vomiting, snot, blood, guts, and generally gross or embarrassing stuff that you may find uncomfortable. If you think you shouldn’t be exposed to any of this stuff, then now’s the time to make the decision to leave or stay in the course and perhaps rethink your proposed career choice. And this is one of the reasons that children are not allowed in the classrooms or labs. Their giggling gets distracting.

Kevin Patton:
Okay. So that’s the first of three warnings. And notice that this is not written in dry, humorless prose. It’s that kind of lighthearted, kind of goofy, borderline snarky voice that you hear me use all the time in this podcast, right? Why do I do that in my list of warnings? Well, mainly because that’s just who I am. But being kind of lighthearted and goofy kind of takes the edge off a bit so that it’s coming across more as advice from a friendly, maybe even goofy source. And it makes the content a bit easier to open up to.

Kevin Patton:
Before I forget, I want to mention that reference to kids in classrooms and labs. I’m on Twitter and other social platforms. So I do see all the kudos given to teachers who bring their kids to class, or let students bring kids to class, or even hold the student’s baby, presumably with permission, while they’re lecturing. Yep. Those sure are endearing moments. And yeah, I’ve let kids, even babies, into class before, even my own kids. I can’t say that I’ve rocked any of these kids to sleep as I taught a class though. But I don’t do that anymore for a number of reasons.

Kevin Patton:
First of all, some colleges I’ve worked at have a strict policy against this. I’ve been told it’s mostly about liability related to kids being injured, or if there’s a fire or campus shooter or other catastrophe. But I think some of the other reasons I’ll cite here come into play as well in formulating those college policies.

Kevin Patton:
So another reason I now bar children from being in the classroom or lab is my own concern for their safety. This is a professional environment where I’m expecting everyone to play it safe. I can’t expect that of children. So that means I can’t concentrate on doing my job properly if I’m not responsible for the safety of children whose parents may or not be attending to them sufficiently because well, maybe they just don’t realize the dangers like I do, or maybe they’re just so swept up in the enthralling class that they forget about watching their kids for a moment which leads to another issue.

Kevin Patton:
Having kids in the classroom, no matter how quiet and well-behaved they are, are a distraction. A lot of students won’t say anything for fear of being judged. In other words, they’re not going to say, “Hey, I don’t want this other student to bring their kids in especially when that other student and those kids are sitting right there.” It’s just like I risk being judged right now for being against professors coddling students’ offspring while lecturing. But believe me, I hear from them outside of class, sometimes arriving to my office en masse with torches and pitchforks. Okay. Maybe not that well-armed, but certainly not happy about the disruptions.

Kevin Patton:
And then there’s the reason cited here. Having kids in a class means that there’s some subjects I have to remember to step softly around in a way that I wouldn’t with all adults in the classroom. And sometimes I forget to step softly or don’t realize I should step softly. And now I’m potentially a bad actor in this scene without intending to be. My A&P class is for adults, adults who can pay attention to what we’re doing and can watch out for their own safety. It’s just not a place for kids.

Kevin Patton:
All that being said, I know that sometimes getting childcare is more than challenging. So I do what I can to help students work out alternative solutions. So I don’t advise a lack of empathy or a lack of compassion. I encourage us all to be supportive, but bringing kids into class is not a good solution in my opinion. Sometimes even adults are uncomfortable in an A&P class because some of what we talk about really is taboo in polite social conversation. So when these topics that we’re not used to discussing come up in class, they can make us a bit uncomfortable, even if we’re prepared for it and even if we see the point in discussing them. It’s the influence of our culture, and we can’t just pretend it’s not there. So I bring this up partly to acknowledge it before it happens, which I think kind of makes it no, I don’t know, a little bit easier to ease into when the moment does arrive in class.

Kevin Patton:
Another reason I do this is because my students are mostly going into health professions where they’ll regularly be put in a position of discussing and possibly even putting gloves on and getting up close to things that most people won’t even discuss in public. And if a patient and is hesitant to talk about their bowel habits or other unmentionable functions with a stranger, even if it’s medically necessary, just think how much more reluctant to discuss their symptoms with someone who’s clearly embarrassed to be hearing about it. So I have a discussion about that discomfort and tell them that I had to get used to it as a teacher. I’m not sure I’m completely used to it sometimes, and that they ought to start working on getting used to it too ahead of time before they’re dealing with patients.

Kevin Patton:
This reminds me of something that happened not too far along in my teaching career. I had noticed that in A&P 2 near the end when we’re talking about the reproduction system, most of those students I had had for two semesters in A&P 1 and now in A&P 2, and A&P 2 is coming to a close, and so we had reached a pretty high level of comfort with each other. And I noticed that when I got to the reproductive system, suddenly if I was giving a little mini lecture or something like that, I would look out in class, and all these students that would normally be looking at me, jotting a few notes were now entirely looking down with their notebook and not looking up, not making eye contact certainly.

Kevin Patton:
I was amused by that when I first saw it. And of course, I understand why that’s the case because reproductive function is one of those taboo subjects that not everyone is comfortable with discussing in public. And I wasn’t a stranger at that point, but I still was not a close friend or family member. And even then, I think a lot of people have some difficulty in having those kinds of discussions. The next time around when that came to be, I revisited that discomfort discussion right before we started talking about the reproductive system. And I said, “Hey, I’ve noticed this happened before in class. And so I’m just pointing out that we need to think about the way we react to things because when we’re dealing with patients, and they’re telling us about their symptoms, we don’t want to be looking down, looking away, not making eye contact because that’s going to make them even more uncomfortable and even less likely to give us accurate information we need in order to take care of them.”

Kevin Patton:
And so I didn’t really think much of that. And so I start my story of the reproductive system, and I’m walking around and making gestures and doing what I normally do during the lecture. And I look out at the classroom and I see everybody, every single student is making eye contact with me, which that never happened either. But then I just started laughing and he said, “What?” And I said, “Oh my gosh.” I said, “I’ve never mentioned this phenomenon before to students. And I didn’t realize the effect it was going to have. Now you’re all trying to make eye contact with me because you don’t want to be one of the students that are just staring down at their notebook the whole time too embarrassed to look up.” And so, yeah, this can have unintended consequences when you have these discussions about the kinds of things that you’re talking about in class. So be aware.

Kevin Patton:
Okay. So finally, I’m ready to go on to warning number two from my syllabus. This course takes a lot of time, a lot more than other courses. Well, except maybe calculus and perhaps some of the nursing courses. A lot more than you might think. A lot more. Carefully consider your overall time and energy commitments. Do you have family to take care of? Do you have a job? Does it demand a lot of time or will your schedule change suddenly? Are there other major stressors in your life right now? Do you realize that some college work is not like high school? It takes a lot of time? Carefully consider arranging your schedule to allow for this course. And if you aren’t willing to take the needed time outside of class, or if you think you may not be able to take the time, then now is when you should consider carefully, whether you should take the course now or at a different time in your life.

Kevin Patton:
Now, way back in episode nine where I gave advice for helping returning learners, I talked about a technique that can work well with both returning learners and traditional learners. And that is to have them sit down and have a chat with their family, friends, coworkers, teammates, and other folks in their lives, and let them know that they’re being asked to be part of a team that’s going to help the student make it to their goals, to give them some extra space and possibly some extra support because let’s face it. A&P is hard. And those next courses after A&P aren’t really going to be a piece of cake either. Back in episode 55, I suggested that we avoid typing anything in all caps in our syllabus. Why? Because all caps is often interpreted as shouting, and maybe we don’t want to be shouting in students in our syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
But I also mentioned that well, like anything I declare as a general policy, I sometimes do use all caps in my syllabus. Here’s a case in point. When I stated “a lot of them” in the passage that I just read from the syllabus, the word “lot” is in all caps. I’m hoping that this will be read as a playful or ironic sort of shouting and not an angry sort of shouting, but it is something we ought to weigh carefully when we use all caps in any of our communications with students, including the syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
Now here’s the third warning that I put into my syllabus. Do you realize that there is a major computer/ internet component to this course? You need to plan for what computer you will use, including internet connection and when you will use it. You’ll be using it a lot in this course. If you think computer access will be a problem, then you may want to hold off on taking this course until you have personal computer access or can take the time to do your work on campus using our campus computers.

Kevin Patton:
Yep. I put the word lot in all caps in this passage too. Okay. Maybe I was shouting a bit, but well, students need to know that even though this particular course, the one I took these warnings from, is considered an ordinary face to face course, not an online course, not a hybrid course, not a crossbreed, not an outcross, not an in-cross course. And yet there’s all these things a student has to do online, like online practice tests and some online regular tests and accessing grades and interactive videos and stuff like that.

Kevin Patton:
A lot of us who spend year after year teaching know this about our classes, but a lot of students, especially those just entering college and among those, especially returning learners, aren’t often aware of that. Yes, even now that we’re two decades into the 21st century, they are just not aware of it sometimes. So it’s important to emphasize this issue so it doesn’t suddenly become a big obstacle when the first online test is due.

Kevin Patton:
Some of the topics I discuss and some of the links I provided in the show notes or episode page provide in-depth information regarding recent news or recent research publications. And many of those updates you hear in these podcast episodes first appear in my daily newsletter of curated headlines for A&P teachers. This daily collection of headlines is conveyed through a service called Nuzzel. That’s N-U-Z-Z-E-L. And the name of my newsletter is easy to remember. It’s the same as the name of this podcast, the A&P Professor. To find the archive of past Nuzzel newsletters or to get it delivered daily in your inbox for free, just go to nuzzel.com that’s N-U-Z-Z-E-L.com/theapprofessor, or, you guessed it, just click the link in the show notes or…

Kevin Patton:
… or, you guessed it, just click the link in the show notes or episode page. In another segment, I talked about my three mornings to students that I put into my course syllabus. Now, I’m going to tell you about the safety advice I give them, too. Now, I’m all about safety. I think I got that from my early days spent as a zookeeper and then as a wild animal trainer. You just don’t survive without a limp and a bunch of scars or survive at all in those professions unless safety comes first.

Kevin Patton:
Even with safety precautions, a cage full of lions and a lab full of chemicals and sharp instruments can still produce injuries, scars, or worse, and it’s not just the lab-specific stuff that’s dangerous, there are all kinds of hazards that we as teachers ought to be prepared for and that we ought to prepare our students for; there’s fires, earthquakes, deranged people with military-style assault weapons, medical incidents, all kinds of stuff, so I’m going to run through a sheet of safety advice that I give my students sometimes as part of the handout, or sometimes as a separate sheet along with the syllabus just to throw out some ideas and get you thinking about ways that you might want to handle safety.

Kevin Patton:
To make it easier to tell which parts I actually listed my syllabus or safety sheet, I’ll put music under the parts I’m quoting. There’s also a printed version in the app, that is the Tap app, that’s the free app for listening to this podcast. Both here and in the handout in the app, I’ve dropped the school name and other specific info and inserted just a generic phrase instead, so in parts, it sounds kind of wonky for that reason. Now, these are all numbered items.

Kevin Patton:
Item one: Always play it safe. If there’s anything at all that seems like it may be a safety hazard, strange smells, strange sounds, finding strange objects, suspicious behavior of a classmate and so on, then inform the instructor immediately, even if it means interrupting the lecture or discussion.

Kevin Patton:
Number two: Keep the school name department of public safety phone number handy. It is phone number. Put it into your smartphone’s contact/favorite list now. Also, write it down on the front of your notebook now. Sign up for the free emergency alert system. Text messaging at URL.

Kevin Patton:
Now, notice how I inserted the phrases “school name” and “URL” and so on. There are other substitutions that you might want to make. For example, your school may not have something called “department of public safety” and your school system may be called something different than “emergency alert system,” and I’ll admit it, there are a couple of words here that are in all caps, which we know can be heard as shouting and I’ve advised not to use that in your syllabus or anytime you give student instructions, but well, as always, I don’t necessarily follow all my own rules all the time, so when I said to put the safety number in your smartphone now, “now” is in all caps, so yeah, I guess I’m kind of shouting that, so I’m using it for emphasis when it could be taken as shouting, but you know what? It’s okay if they heard it as shouting because I think they’re hearing the concern where it’s coming from rather than me trying to kind of get down on them.

Kevin Patton:
Number three: In case of fire, evacuate the building. There’s a map at the door of this room. Study it today and know where you are going if evacuation is necessary later in the semester. Know at least two ways of getting out of the building. There are fire alarms and fire hoses and fire extinguishers in the hallway. Learn where they are.

Kevin Patton:
Number four: In case of evacuation notice, use the same route as in number three above.

Kevin Patton:
Number five: Check in with the instructor if an evacuation occurs, even if you don’t plan to return to the building. That’s so that I won’t send emergency staff into a burning building looking for you when you’re on your way home.

Kevin Patton:
Now, I tell my students that they’re risking the lives of emergency workers if they think you’re stuck in a burning building and here you are in the drive-through at White Castle, which is right across the street from campus. Now, I always have a class roster handy and grab that on the way out if I can. It’s not a perfect system for tracking the students who may or may not be in class, but it’s better than relying totally on memory, especially my memory.

Kevin Patton:
Number six: In the case of a shooter or similar hazard in the building and safe evacuation is not possible, lock the classroom door from the inside and hide away from the door window. DPS officers will have a key, so do not open for anyone, and consider DHS guidelines.

Kevin Patton:
Now, that DHS guidelines thing is a live hyperlink to a PDF that the Department of Homeland Security puts out specifically for this purpose. I’ll have a link in the show notes and episode guide, and of course, it’s in the handout that I have available in the free Tap app, which reminds me of another bit of advice. Once you have your safety tips all plotted out, make sure you run it by someone in authority on your campus, maybe more than one person, to make sure that your advice is not in conflict with official policy.

Kevin Patton:
For example, I’ll never forget evacuating a lecture hall of 150 or so students when the fire alarm went off and we were all out, standing on a busy rainy city street while no one else in that crowded multistory building evacuated, it was just us standing out there. We eventually went back in and after class, I contacted the emergency department who told me that they never evacuate for a fire alarm because, well, it’s usually not a fire, so I asked them, “Well, if it is a fire, then what?” and they said, “Well, then we’ll send somebody around yelling ‘fire,'” and I just thought “Is that how we’re using technology, really? I mean, why do we even have a fire alarm?”

Kevin Patton:
So, they were annoyed at my call and asked why I didn’t read the emergency handbook that was on my desk and I explained I didn’t have a desk because I was an adjunct and nobody ever gave me a handbook and nobody ever mentioned one, so later I asked around to the full-timers and none of them had one either, but the person I was talking to said I should have sought one out and read it, which I thought to myself would be odd to have occurred because I didn’t know such a thing even existed, so why would I ask for one?

Kevin Patton:
Oh, well, so I’m telling you this story for two reasons. One is, well, I’m an old guy and as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, stop me if you’ve heard me say this, when your brain ages, your storytelling inhibitions become increasingly diminished, so that’s why I’m telling this story. Another reason I’m telling this story is that, well, things about how colleges and universities are run don’t always make sense, yet I’m still responsible for the safety of my students, so it pays to ask around for advice, and well, while you’re at it, why not ask if there’s some sort of handbook that you’re supposed to know about?

Kevin Patton:
Number seven: In the case of a weather emergency, proceed to a room marked with a blue triangle, usually a lower inside room with no windows.

Kevin Patton:
Number eight: In the case of an earthquake, hold on, get under a table if you can, or on the floor next to a solid object, and watch for flying objects, protecting your head as best you can.

Kevin Patton:
Now, this reminds me of a story, and as you know, if I think of a story, I’m going to tell it. I was teaching a course in a big lecture hall that held, I don’t know, about 150 or so students. Actually, it was the same lecture hall I mentioned just a few minutes ago and when I got to my safety advice about earthquakes, I said, looking around, it was regular lecture hall-style seating, so they had these little flip-top desk things that they pulled out after they sat down and it would really be quite a feat to try and get underneath one of those.

Kevin Patton:
The seats were so close together that would be difficult, too, so I said “In a room like this, probably the best thing to do is just get down on the floor in-between your seat and the seat in front of you, because if the ceiling or other things come crashing down, then hopefully the seatbacks, which will be higher than you, will be able to support the weight of some of those things falling down on you and that will give you some extra safety. That’s much better than staying seated and sitting upright or standing up.”

Kevin Patton:
I thought to myself, “Is that really the best we can do?” and I could see by the look of my student’s face, like, “Yeah, sure. That’s going to help a lot.” Interestingly, there was one semester I had the first class in the morning, it was an 8:00 AM class, and I would go to the lecture hall and go in there and make sure everything was where it was supposed to be and I had an Intercom PA system that I use, so I got that all set up and got all my materials set up and so on so that when I came to class, I could be greeting students as they arrived and chatting with them and didn’t have to worry about getting things set up.

Kevin Patton:
I remember one morning I had walked in, or actually, I just look in the room because the door was locked, and normally, the public safety officers had unlocked it for me so that I could get in there and so it was locked up and I thought, “Well, that’s really weird. I’m going to go and have to go find somebody with a key to open this up,” because I didn’t have a key to that lecture hall. Then I noticed there was a sign on the door that said, “Please use a different room,” or I forget what exactly it said, but it made it clear that this room was out of order, and so I peered inside. It was dim, I look inside, and the suspended ceiling that was normally up on the ceiling was now down. It had fallen down.

Kevin Patton:
Well, they had been doing some renovation to the lecture hall above it, and so for the days preceding that incident during class, sometimes there’d be some jackhammering or something going on above our head and there’d be a little wisp of dust come flying down and stuff like that and I wondered about the safety of this. Well, sure enough, it caused the ceiling in our lecture hall to get loose and it fell completely down, and guess what? It was resting on the seatbacks, so if someone had been in the classroom, and thankfully, I checked into this, there was no one in the classroom when it fell, but if students had been in there and they had noticed things were starting to fall apart, if they had followed the advice I’d given them and got down on the floor between their seat and the seat in front of them, I’m sure none of them would have been hurt or at least not hurt seriously. Why? Because the seatbacks really did catch the falling ceiling, so there you go. I guessed right for once. Anyway, just another story there.

Kevin Patton:
Number nine: In the case of medical emergencies, notify the school name department of public safety immediately at phone number or 911. They will contact and direct outside emergency crews if needed. All classrooms/labs have an emergency phone. Please notify the instructor or a classmate if you’re not feeling well. Don’t just leave. You may not make it very far. The instructor appreciates prior notice of any medical conditions that might give you trouble during the class.

Kevin Patton:
Now, here’s another policy I wouldn’t have anticipated. When there’s a medical emergency, I always thought one always calls 911, right? Well, not on at least two of the campuses where I’ve taught. You dial 911 only if you can’t get ahold of the public safety officers and that’s because the public safety officers are trained as first responders and can get there faster than the public system can get and they’re going to come carrying emergency equipment, oh, like an AED or whatever might be needed depending on the call, and also, if I call 911 and an ambulance is dispatched, I or the school may have some extra liability, including financial liability in some cases. One of my colleagues actually got written up for calling 911 when a student collapsed. Who’d have guessed? So, once again, it pays to check with others about your school’s policies. They’re not all the same.

Kevin Patton:
I also want to mention something I learned very, very early in my teaching career, and that is that if a student has a medical condition that has the potential, or maybe even is likely to cause an incident in the classroom, I’m not normally going to be told about that and the reason is that has to do with medical privacy and even just plain old ordinary student privacy because that is deemed as something I need not know.

Kevin Patton:
I totally disagree with that. I think that’s something I do need to know. I think I should be informed of that, but that’s my opinion and not a lot of college administrators share that opinion, so I’m just telling you that somebody might have something that could really go wrong that you are not going to be prepared for, so that’s why I put that phrase in there, that the instructor appreciates prior notice of any medical conditions that might give you trouble during class, so there’s no harm in saying, “Hey, if there’s something you want me to know, you can tell me.” That’s not a violation of anything because they’re willingly telling you what’s going on and not very often do students come to me with stuff like that, but occasionally they do, and normally, it’s just normal stuff that it’s nice to know, but I would have been able to handle, anyway.

Kevin Patton:
Probably the most frequent one is they’ll come and say, “I’m eight months pregnant and so my water might break.” Okay. Or they might tell me how we’re not supposed to bring food and drink in here, “But I’m having this or that issue with my pregnancy,” or with some other medical condition, “and so it would really help if I can have a drink in here,” and so I usually tell them, “Yeah, sure, that’s fine,” and then if any other students says, “Hey, how come you’re letting so-and-so bring a drink in, but I can’t bring a drink in?” Then I can say, “Well, okay, there are reasons. Yeah, it seems odd, but there are reasons.”

Kevin Patton:
My point is is that if I’m not going to be informed by the system of things I ought to know about, then maybe we can ask the students to tell us things we need to know about, and I have had a few students who’ve had medical conditions where they sometimes get seizures or some kind of other medical incident and I’ll ask them, “Okay, what is it you recommend that I do? If this happens to you, what should my response be? What should we do to help you when that happens?” and sometimes, I don’t need to do anything, but they want to let me know what’s going on or why they’re suddenly rushing out of class or something like that.

Kevin Patton:
Speaking of rushing out of class, we have had some cases where a student has felt sick and decided to leave of the class, but didn’t tell anybody that they were feeling sick and they get up, walk outside of class, and they collapse in the hallway and they’re just laying there. We had a student who collapsed in a restroom and was there for who knows how long before they were found by a random student walking in while class was going on and found them there, and so I always tell the students, “If you’re not feeling well and you feel like you need to leave class, just grab whoever is next to you and ask them to come with you.”

Kevin Patton:
At the same time, I say, “If a student is sitting next to you and they ask you to come out in the hallway, then that’s probably what it is, so unless you have some other reason not to, go ahead and go with them.” I tell them also, “Don’t be afraid of disrupting class if you’re having a minute emergency. If you’re feeling faint or sick or something else is going on, just shout it out or raise your hand or do whatever you need to do to get my attention or somebody else’s attention and deal with it. Don’t worry about disrupting class. It’s just A&P. We can always go back and learn whatever it is we miss, but your health is more important,” so think about those kinds of things related to medical emergencies.

Kevin Patton:
Number 10: Take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of flu and other infectious conditions by limiting contact with others when you’re sick and observing CDC-recommended guidelines. This is where I tell them to stay home until they’ve been fever-free for a day, and sometimes I then step up onto my soapbox for the admonition that herd immunity can’t work if only a few people get immunized, so please get your flu shot if you’re able to get a flu shot.

Kevin Patton:
Number 11: If your class ends after dark, you should park in the lot nearest the building and walk out together as a group when class is over. Any student may request an escort from the school name department of public safety phone number. See also URL for school name safety guidelines, and procedures. This is general advice only. Please use good judgment. School name and emergency service policies and procedures supersede this advice.

Kevin Patton:
Okay, so that’s my list of safety tips. During one of the first classes, I give some room-specific tips, like where we are relative to the two nearest exits, where the fire extinguisher is, stuff like that. Speaking of fire extinguishers, they’re not just for fires. I learned this in the circus, that they’re great for breaking up lion attacks, which means that if a lion attacks me, that’s how they can stop the attack without killing me. Now, I’m sure that’s not going to happen in class, but it also means that if some other kind of violence is happening, a fire extinguisher may help cool things down without harming anyone.

Kevin Patton:
As I mentioned, I also start each semester with an exam, which I call “test zero” that include a few safety questions, like “Where is the closest exit from our classroom? Where is the nearest fire extinguisher?” and things like that to reinforce the importance of safety. The reason I’m giving you these is not because it’s the best or only way to do this, it’s just to put the idea out there that we have some responsibility for the safety of our students and the best and easiest way to facilitate safety is to be prepared for it, partly by getting everyone else prepared. I haven’t lost a student during class yet and I never hope to.

Kevin Patton:
Back in episode 41, I said that going forward, I’ve made a commitment to introduce myself at the beginning of every course with my name and how I prefer to be addressed as their teacher, which is as either Kevin or Dr. Patton, which is good to include in the syllabus as well, but I also tell students that the pronouns that I use are he, him, and his in order to open the door and invite students to tell me which pronouns they prefer if they want to, or maybe it will give them the hint that it’s okay to put that in their profile in their learning management system, where I’ve also put my pronouns in my profile, especially in these days of remote, online, hybrid, high flaxen, all manner of teaching that involves some level of remote interaction.

Kevin Patton:
There’s a big practical advantage to this. It’s sometimes hard to know which pronouns to use. I’ve had cases where a Taylor, a Blair, a Morgan, a Carmen, or a Chris or a Terry has me confused about which pronoun to use and I don’t want to mess that up. Even when their photos are available, that may not help, so there’s that, but that then leads us to the next issue and that is of gender identity in general. I can’t be sure how any student, no matter their name or their appearance or their mannerisms identifies and I want to honor their identities, so that’s a great reason to open up the doors for getting things as clear as my students need them to be, so yeah, I’ve started using that in introductions, including in my syllabus where I list the instructor information.

Kevin Patton:
I think if I make that effort at recognizing a student’s own personal identity and connecting with them on that level, showing them that respect, I think that’s going to improve the teacher-student relationship. I think that’s going to improve the learning environment. I think it’s going to make us all happier and more connected as we interact with each other. Perhaps it’ll help build and maintain that ideal safe learning space, that course culture of respect and trust that I want to build.

Kevin Patton:
Phew. A long, long podcast, eh? Yeah, well, I told you to expect that when it started, right? And it’s not over yet, really. I got one more thing I want to shoehorn in here. Actually, a topic I want to revisit. I want to talk about that elephant in the room. Oh, wait, wait, that was back in episode 31, the elephant episode where I talked about elephant skin. No, no, no, I don’t want to talk about an elephant. I want to talk about something that can be just as much massive, and that’s our long, long syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
Notice that I used two “longs,” not three or four, which means that many of us have a syllabus that’s pretty darn long, but like an elephant, maybe that’s just right for the job. Yeah, yeah, I know, they’re too long to sit and read on the front, but that’s okay, I think. A syllabus is meant for raiding throughout the semester as much as the syllabus has meant for me reading on the first day of the course. An article is The Chronicle of Higher Education from a while back caught my eye back then and putting together the syllabus special reminded me of it. Written by Tom Deans, it’s titled Yes, Your Syllabus Is Way Too Long, so you almost don’t need to read it to know what it says, right?

Kevin Patton:
After asking a few of his students about it, Deans concluded that perhaps none of his students, or our students, either, read past page two of our syllabus. Now, despite the lack of scientific rigor in his study, he just asked a few students what they thought, my gut tells me he’s probably right, so in the article, he advocates for a two-page syllabus. He advocates that as an ideal, something we should strive for before, but not getting discouraged if we never quite reached that ideal, it’s more of a mindset of always asking ourselves if whatever it is that we’re thinking of adding to our syllabus, do we really, really need it there? That’s two “reallys.” Do we really, really need it there? That is, do our students really, really need it there?

Kevin Patton:
Actually, he recommends doing something that I’ve talked about before, and that is putting some of that syllabus content in your course website or learning management system or as an addendum or supplement to the actual syllabus. It’s really still part of the syllabus, mentioned or listed in the syllabus, but put some somewhere easy to get to when a student wants or needs that particular resource or explanation. Deans says he has a long and detailed course schedule and that’s what he does with his schedule, puts it aside as a supplement to his syllabus.

Kevin Patton:
I recently had to take a course in how to teach an online course because, well, it was a mandate for everyone, no matter that I’ve been teaching online and teaching others to teach online and already had training in teaching online for many years, it was a mandate, but I did find some pearls in this beginner course and wound up tweaking the syllabus for my online course, and as I did that, I thought, “Wow, this syllabus is getting long,” so I did something that I think has made it work better without having to take anything out. I reorganized it. Yep, that’s all I did. I reorganized it and it is way easier to read and use now.

Kevin Patton:
Mainly, what I did was chunk it into smaller bits and put a descriptive heading above each small chunk, so now it’s easy to scan and stop only at the chunks that have immediate usefulness. It’s both easier to read and easier to raid later for just that information needed at that future moment. It’s an online syllabus, so it was easy to put in a list of headings as a mini table of contents at the beginning of the syllabus the students could click on to take them right to the chunk they want. Deans’s point about thinking hard about the length of our syllabus is a good one. I’m going to reassess that and think about that each new term when I look at my syllabus and I invite you to do the same.

Kevin Patton:
Okay, so what’s your take on what I said here? Hey, wake up, wake up. The episode’s over. I said, “What’s your take?” Why not call in with your questions, comments, arguments, and ideas at the podcast hotline? It’s 1-833-LION-DEN, or 1-833-546-6336, or send a recording or written message to podcast@theAPprofessor.org. I’ll see you down the road.

Aileen:
The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology

Kevin Patton:
Taxes are not included in any episode of this podcast.

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