Explore 6 million college syllabi
February 12, 2020 6:40 AM   Subscribe

opensyllabus.org scraped 6 million syllabi and put them into a searchable database.
posted by gwint (26 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
what a time to be alive when the intellectual fruits of humanities' finest minds are accessible at the drop of a hat

20 titles found

30 titles found.

17 titles found.
posted by lalochezia at 6:49 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

what a time to be alive when the intellectual fruits of humanities' finest minds are accessible at the drop of a hat
I mean, I would totally read "My Britain Is Fuck All' Zombie Multiculturalism and the Race Politics of Citizenship" by Paul Gilroy. I enjoyed Gilroy's There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, but a lot has happened since it was published in the late '80s.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:58 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

Meta: meta
posted by wenestvedt at 7:12 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]

I found some interesting details about how this works under the hood on the portfolio page of David McClure, the project's chief technologist.
posted by simonw at 7:13 AM on February 12

Huh, this part is cool:
Finally, the OSP does not display syllabi from countries or territories where we think the disclosure of teaching choices could put faculty at risk or otherwise impede academic freedom. The list of excluded countries and territories is based, in part, on the Scholars at Risk Network’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project and related Free to Think reports, as well as Freedom House country reports. This list currently includes:
It's a neat idea overall, and seems more/better developed than last time I heard of the project. Would need institutional buy-in to get really good, comprehensive data. Lots of universities use course management systems like Moodle nowadays, where only the students registered in a course can see course materials such as the syllabus. At the same time, at my university we're required to submit course information sheets to our departments, and similar institutions could provide some pre-aggregated syllabus information if faculty are concerned about publicizing their syllabi more broadly. (I'm generally in favor of this in many cases, but even in North America, publicly publishing syllabi linkable to specific faculty members or small departments could unnecessarily invite harassment from alt right groups for folks in certain fields, such as women's and gender studies.)
posted by eviemath at 7:15 AM on February 12 [9 favorites]

Not surprised so many Texas universities top the list. We have a law here requiring that we make our syllabi available to the public by the end of the first week of class. Because that’s an important thing for a state legislature to spend time making laws about.
posted by Cecilia Rose at 7:16 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]

Wow, a lot of the"Most Frequently Assigned Titles" are very tired.

It's neat that clicking on a title also display a list of "Most Frequently Assigned With"!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:27 AM on February 12

Would need institutional buy-in to get really good, comprehensive data.
Good luck. I have heard administrators talk about how syllabi should be treated as proprietary documents and competitive intelligence efforts may lure our customers (aka students) away from our programs. But syllabi are just recipes and they are not proprietary! I work for the public. If somebody wants to use my syllabus, power to them.

Honestly, I wish there was a law in my state that made it mandatory for me to share my syllabi. It would prevent administration from getting all knotted up around whether or not I'm "sharing secrets" and hurting our "bottom line." I do think that it is important for the government to protect higher education from the gaping maw of capitalism. Higher ed has becoming a money printing machine that envisions students as customers and knowledge as product. They are anything but. Making knowledge public is one way to ward against this profound perversion.
posted by k8lin at 7:27 AM on February 12 [10 favorites]

k8lin: Honestly, I wish there was a law in my state that made it mandatory for me to share my syllabi.

My employer -- a private .edu -- was required by our accrediting body some years ago to align all levels of curriculum, testing, and mission, so that a clear line can be drawn from the university's mission statement to the various schools, then the degree programs, then to the courses, their syllabus, assignment rubrics, testing & measurements, and the stated outcomes. That way the grade is drawn from coursework and tests, and it delivers what was promised in the course catalog, and the courses comprise a degree that delivers what was promised, as does the school, and the university as a whole.

I believe it was referred to as "outcomes assessment" here, and a similar thing was done in my suburban town a few years ago (under the heading "standards-based grading") that aligned grading, testing, rubrics, homework, and everything else, from K to 12th grade.

It's a pretty heroic undertaking, but it provides consistency and transparency (helllllo, syllabi available online!) that are really valuable to students.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:36 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

This is awesome! If you are an adult student trying to get credit for knowledge learned on the job or life part of the process is finding a syllabus to compare your knowledge against. So if you've worked at an office for 10 years you find a syllabus for a basic business class and then write a paper that links your real world experience with the criteria on the syllabus.

When I was doing this process it was hard to find syllabus to use for some classes. I ended up only getting 6 credits or 2 classes this way, but it was worth it. Cost ~$200 and 10-20 hours of my time vs. ~$1200 for tuition per class.
posted by MadMadam at 7:51 AM on February 12 [8 favorites]

17 titles found.

I really do assign Healey's "Fuck Nuance" to grad students, in part for the amusement factor but mostly because it can be a useful corrective to the ways grad students think sometimes and what they often valorize.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:14 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

This title got me thinking, if the plural of syllabus is syllabi, what is the plural of syllabub?
posted by biffa at 8:35 AM on February 12

posted by GenjiandProust at 9:31 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

I submit that we stop teaching Heart of Darkness. As an English major, had to do that book like 3 times over the course of four years, and always paired with Chinua Achebe's An Image of Africa (pdf) essay. Did we ever conclude, that yes, Conrad was racist, even though that was the entire point of Achebe's essay? No. Did we at least read some of Achebe's stories? Also no.
posted by toastyk at 9:37 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

...what is the plural of syllabub?


Once you have a collection of syllabi, then maybe a crawler can add links to free/open primary sources. w00t!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:48 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

I got caught down a rabbit hole by searching top titles by country. Very interesting in the social sciences.
posted by aclevername at 9:53 AM on February 12

Am I being dumb or is there a way to see the actual syllabi? Like, if I search for Elements of Style, can I see what classes assigned it, and what the other books/essays assigned were?
posted by toastyk at 9:54 AM on February 12

toastyk: I was looking for the same thing but the site's FAQ says that the syllabi aren't made available. I understand their rationale but that decision significantly limits the utility of this data set and any related analysis.
posted by ElKevbo at 10:09 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]

ElKevbo: thanks, that's really frustrating. It's annoying because I also wanted to see what's going with various (for lack of a better term) ethnic studies, and there's no way to search on that. I saw Crazy Rich Asians has been assigned four times, but where? Asian American studies isn't listed as a field - the only thing I saw close to it was Women's Studies.
posted by toastyk at 10:51 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

I'm also sad to see that actual syllabuses aren't available. Back when we had faculty webpages (instead of being corralled inside an LMS), I always made mine available. When I get assigned a course I haven't taught before, I usually do a search for other people's syllabuses to get ideas for texts, assignments, and topics. The pickings have become increasingly slim as more of higher education moves from the open web to walled silos. I know I can't complain, since my syllabuses aren't out there anymore, but for a while there it was a really useful resource that I found helpful and hate that others no longer have available the way i did.
posted by fogovonslack at 10:55 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]

I have suggested to writer friends that they google site:.edu syllabus and their book title to see who is assigning their book.
posted by larrybob at 11:03 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I wish there was a law in my state that made it mandatory for me to share my syllabi

I believe it's pronounced "I wish there were a law nationwide that requires every syllabus, lecture, test, and accreditation to be available for free or like ten dollars."
posted by Sterros at 11:48 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]

Yeah, was a bit disappointed to find that this is basically just aggregate data. What would be so valuable for functional use rather than just as an interesting dataset would be to see the texts of individual syllabi.
posted by dusty potato at 1:05 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]

It looks like a Syllabus Commons is the ultimate dream.
posted by oceano at 2:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]

This is neat. I also have no idea how to use this.

Poking around - Relativity, Einstein's century old pop science book, is in 12th place in the field? It's been assigned many times in both business and fitness and leisure? (There are schools with a fitness and leisure department?) It's accompanied more than 75 times by something called Ghost Stories and more than 55 times by Gray's Anatomy, and also more than twenty times each by Hecht and Wald? I have a hard time imagining any of those classes.
posted by eotvos at 4:33 PM on February 12

Wow, a lot of the"Most Frequently Assigned Titles" are very tired.

A friend of mine said that, between philosophy and poli sci classes, he was assigned Republic five times in undergrad, I'm not sure if he is exaggerating, or not.
posted by thelonius at 5:45 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]

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