As a philosopher, one of the greatest challenges I face is reducing the number of problems I must deal with in my classes. Addressing this task requires a diverse approach to the problems. In some cases, I must craft policies and rules to attempt to head off troubles. As you might suspect based on the iron law of bureaucracy (bureaucracy always increases) my syllabus has bloated over the decades. When I first started teaching, my syllabus was about two pages featuring a list of the readings, the grade scale and similar such relevant items. But it is now the length of an academic paper, jammed with policies and rules that I am required to include (such as a relatively new dress code) and policies I have crafted over the years in response to some new problem. Back when I was in graduate school, a professor joked about naming his rules after the students who made them a necessity—and in some cases, they did just that. While I do not name my new rules in this manner, each one has a story behind it that required the new rule.
I have found that every semester introduces a new problem that the existing rules and policies do not cover—and thus the syllabus must grow like a monster that feasts on trouble. I do not, of course, think that the policies and rules will ensure that the same problems will not arise again—they will. Rather, they exist mainly to give me something to paste into emails in response to some problem or issue. Also, since I am a lawfully aligned creature, I do like having a procedure flowchart to follow so I can deal with each problem consistently and fairly in each manifestation.
In other cases, it is a matter of recording yet another video or creating another page in Canvas explaining how some aspect of the course, such as grading, works. While technological advances have required that I add explanations of things that did not exist when I started teaching, the explainers are as likely to be about some ancient aspect of teaching, such as late policies, extra credit policies and such. Based on the five views these have gotten over the years, I know that people are generally not looking at them. As such, while they are intended to inform, they realistically have two practical functions. One is that they make me feel that I have done my job in informing the students so that I feel no guilt or discomfort when students profess not to know something that was thus explained in multiple media. The second is that they give me something I can link to in emails in response to the questions that were, of course, answered in the syllabus and in class. Mostly, it is just a matter of feelings and saving time.
While I do strive to create a class that is free of problems, this is an impossible task. As Plato and other philosophers have argued, this is an imperfect world rife with evils of various sorts. My hypothesis is that baked into the universe is Ineliminable Problem Problem. The gist of this problem is that no matter what one does, one can never eliminate all problems. I also like to put it this way: For every Problem P that I solve, a Student S will create at least one new Problem X. The IPP applies broadly to all aspects of reality; you can test it yourself.
Mike Zak says
Even though I agree that the IPP exists, I don’t think the example you give is a very convincing one.
I realize it’s beside the point, but let me make my point nonetheless.
The thing is – your approach is flawed. You try to solve each problem locally by adding yet another policy, etc. At a certain point you don’t even solve anything, since the syllabus has grown to an unreadable size.
You say so yourself – you haven’t solved the problem, you only prepared a way to mitigate it once it happens.
I never ran a course, and I have no idea which problems are you talking about, but I’m sure there’s some common ground with much of these problems.
If you focus the solution around said common ground, rather then try to solve everything locally – things would be much easier.