Monday, May 20, 2013

Its In The Syllabus

From PhD comics:

The tables can very easily be turned on you, the faculty, when a student goes over the syllabus with a tooth comb and then holds you to every dot and comma in it.

My friend who is an igneous petrologist and faculty at a local university here in Pune saw the nasty side of the syllabus centered education. As a researcher, my friend is highly enthusiastic about his work and often launches into long excursions about it during lecture time. He didn't think the students minded until he posed a question about his research in an exam. There, some students objected... it was not in the syllabus you see!  They took their complaint to the Vice Chancellor of the University and had the exam annulled.

This happened at a post-graduate level i.e. these were students studying for their Masters degree, a level at which students should be learning not just the fundamentals of a subject but also exploring the boundaries of knowledge about a topic by diving into the research literature and hungrily biting at anything extra that comes their way. It makes you wonder about the motivation and mindset of these students that they so quickly and vehemently protested against a faculty who actually wanted to go out of his way and teach more than is required of him.

I hate to think that the narrow minded focus on rigid syllabus and passing exams has reached such a level that it is destroying any curiosity to learn more.


  1. I am not surprised at all. In fact, they might have even objected to the lectures themselves, saying he's not "covering the syllabus" as prescribed - we get a 'synopsis'(lesson plan) from the university and have to follow that. Anything extra has to be brought in sneakily in the middle of the regular lecture.

  2. L- I am getting similar feedback from a few other friends involved in academia.. disheartening!

  3. That's too bad. This is a too-common attitude among undergraduate students at our university, unfortunately, but I would be surprised to find it in grad students. As you say, they should be excited to hear about new research.

  4. Hollis- learning by rote is what most students in India are used to from school days, so the habit continues..

  5. I've rarely had or held classes that completely stuck to the prescribed material as listed in the syllabus; changing it up actually . The other 3 rarely change.

    An interesting anecdote you brought up. The same thing happens here in Canada, but is always followed-up with the usual "Is this going to be on the exam?" question by students, asked without fail.

  6. Anon- thanks for a Canadian perspective! What level do you teach? Does this happen with graduate students?