Most LMS and CMS tools have the same basic layout ... they focus their interface efforts on the folder tab metaphor, or even an old-school CBT main menu structure. These interfaces seem to get worse with every new feature as new tabs, or silly icons must be added to every student's learning space. One of the tabs is always a syllabus tab ... where students are supposed to go in and see their, you guessed it, syllabus. Now, I remember going to high school and even college before the Internet was such a part of the educational experience and I always got a syllabus handed to me the first day of class -- and I promptly stuffed it into my notebook.
We all understand the perceived importance of the syllabus -- from a teaching perspective; it gives teachers a location to centrally announce what we plan to do over the course of a semester. As a student, it is the spot where we first learn about what is expected of us, when things are due, and all sorts of other procedural stuff. The Internet has not changed our need to produce a paper-based syllabus that articulates the goals and expected outcomes of the course. I am asked every semester to turn in a copy of my syllabus for review at the College level and we as faculty are bound by policy to provide our students with one.
Back to the CMS/LMS model ... in the world of teaching with technology we have a few choices, we can use Word (or whatever tool) to produce a syllabus that is suitable for print and then move it online as a PDF, or as a static html document. We can also fight our way through the standard tools inside the LMS/CMS our University or College uses ... again, building a static version of the syllabus. We then use all sorts of other tools inside the CMS like the calendar to set up due dates, meeting times, and more ... like the email tool to send messages to students, cancel class, and collect feedback ... a grading tool to provide secure acces to grades and so on. All of these tools are disconnected across the multitude of tabs or within depths of menus that must be navigated.
I am so sick of the tools available to make my teaching life better and I know my students are sick of these same tools as they use them to access information and submit work. You can't do anything without five or six clicks though poorly structured menus and tabs. Why is it that EVERY class starts with a syllabus and it then becomes the ignored part of the learning experience? Why not make the syllabus the CMS? Why not make the syllabus the central place that students visit everyday to find out what is going on? Why type something in Word -- or even DreamWeaver -- and then have to retype, print (or PDF), and hand it out again next semester when information technology can change this?
I have maintained for some time now that the syllabus shouldn't just be typed up and stuffed in a student's notebook. It should actually replace all those tabs and menus of the CMS ... students should just be able to visit a living portal into your class via their syllabus. From there, once logged in, they should be able to see what is going on, read dynamic announcements, communicate with their peers and faculty via email, respond to posts, blog, assess individual and team behavior, connect to readings, assignments, exams, and whatever other resources I choose to assign them to. If we build a hub that allows students to visit one location and link to everything from there and make it a meaningful experience, then we can shatter the typical CMS/LMS paradigm and get on with teaching and learning instead of fighting with technology.
This is just the start of all this ... within the year, we'll have built a syllabus tool that not only does everything listed above, but also intelligently looks at student behavior and begins to work with them. It will pull the best and most read posts to the top, calculate scores and provide students with dynamic feedback, and create reasons why they will want to visit it everyday ... the syllabus will become as much of a destination as it is a resource. They will begin to see it the hub to their learning community -- when that happens we all win.