Professors must provide detailed course breakdowns

Ishan Shah

When my differential equations professor rattled off a list of calculus topics we should be familiar with on the first day of class, I panicked. While I was aware of the necessary prerequisites, I didn’t know about all of the specific topics I was supposed to already understand coming into class.

I had just taken the prerequisite course the previous semester, so I was able to manage the transition. However, because not all students take classes in the same order, many of my classmates who took the course semesters or years earlier were scrambling to relearn material they hadn’t looked at in months.

To ease this transition, it’s imperative that professors provide students with course breakdowns that detail class topics along with corresponding prerequisite knowledge students should already have.

Elliot Lopez-Finn, an art history graduate student and Introduction to the Visual Arts instructor, includes lecture topics and relevant readings in her syllabus.

“A lot of giving that information up front is focused on making things clear ahead of time so that for students … all the standards and the expectations are clear,” Lopez-Finn said. 

Lopez-Finn said students should have all “actual details (about the course) as far in advance as possible because that gives everybody at least the chance to try to work ahead.”

If more professors followed a system similar to Lopez-Finn’s, it would be far easier for students to look ahead and see what topics they need to brush up on before class.

Instead, many professors operate on the assumption that students remember details from all of their prior classes. This is an unfair expectation. 

The reality is that students may choose to hold off on specific classes for later semesters, may not be able to secure a spot in high-demand classes or may even be transferring in from different colleges. This means there can be entire semesters between when students are taking classes and their prerequisites.

Additionally, because professors often don’t collaborate with their peers when creating course curricula, there can be an imbalance in what topics are more heavily emphasized in each professor’s section of a course. This can lead to disparities in what students retain and are expected to learn in their classes.

To improve on these issues, professors should elaborate on course topics in the syllabi, inform students of specific topics to brush up on and make class requirements clear ahead of time.

Mechanical engineering freshman Peter Mathews agrees that having a more concrete course breakdown would not only make it easier for students to follow along, but would also hold professors to a higher standard.

“Too much confusion arises from vague and structureless syllabi,” Mathews said. “Having a set, more detailed syllabus will help them stay more on track.” 

UT professors do a lot for their students already, but by giving students more detailed information about their classes, they can enhance student learning even more. I hope that by fall 2020, more professors will implement this change to make education more straightforward for all.

Shah is an electrical and computer engineering freshman from Plano.