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It pays to read the syllabus

By Giancarlo Salazar, Staff Writer

On the first day of classes, your professor will often hand out a packet either physically or digitally titled “Syllabus.” The syllabus is a contract between the professor and the student outlining the student’s responsibilities, and what rights they have access to. Many students will often take a glance, review it with their professor during class, and shove it into their backpack for it to never be seen again. The other portion of students may read through it to better prepare for their class. 

Students can expect to find important information such as resources, deadlines, classroom policies, and contact information for office hours. In some instances, a student might find money. 

In an entrepreneurship course, one professor hid a message within two of his class’ syllabi. The text read, “There is one envelope in Dean Fusaro’s office with $40 in it. Just ask her and it’s yours. The first student from the class that finds it gets it.” 

Entrepreneurship professor and CEO of Sage Marketing, Daniel Klein, explained why it’s important for students to read the syllabus.

“I think it’s very important because it tells them how to do well in the class, so to me the syllabus is the instructions for how to do well,” Klein said. “I would hope that students would at least glance at it or look it over. Mine are very specific, I’ll give them all the rubrics for any midterm, any finals. I’ll tell them exactly what they need to do to pass the class — I want the students to do well, I’m going to show them how to do well, and all they have to do is read it.”

Out of everyone in Klein’s classes, only one student came forward to claim the prize. Freshman business administration major Talia Romito was the first— and only— student to secure the forty dollars hidden within the syllabus. 

“I definitely think you should read your syllabus. It helps me personally a lot just to get an idea of the classes you’re going into and just prepares you for your year to come,” Romito said. “I’ve always read my syllabus since high school and I plan to continue doing so throughout my four years here.”

Even after professors emphasize the importance of their syllabus, students still tend to ignore it or not look through it carefully. 

“I think students skip reading the syllabus because it can be long and overwhelming,” Klein said. “You need to know where to look. If I were a student I would definitely look at the rubrics if there are any in there. It’s a bit overwhelming because a typical syllabus is twelve or fourteen pages long.”

Reading the syllabus is often looked at as being responsible for knowing what’s going on in the class. 

“I feel like I went in [to class] like I could answer some questions based on the syllabus,” Romito said. “I kind of knew what my professor was talking about. — gives you an advantage going into the class, you’re not going in blind.”

Hiding money within the syllabus is not something professors typically do, but Klein found it to be an interesting way to see if his students were reading the material.

“I saw that a professor at another college did something like this and I just thought it would be fun to test out to see if anyone would find the money,” Klein said. 

“My initial reaction was confusion… Why did it say to pick up forty dollars in the dean’s office?” Romito said. “At first I thought it was a joke, I actually didn’t pick it up until four or five days after, because I thought it was just a joke and didn’t want to go and embarrass myself. So one day, I asked Professor Klein after the end of class, and he said no it’s not a joke and no one has picked it up so go pick it up you deserve it. Then, I realized it was real and it was pretty cool, I felt proud.” 

In the eyes of an entrepreneur, a couple of lessons can be learned from this experiment. 

“My classes teach entrepreneurship, one of the keys of entrepreneurship is knowing when to look out for opportunities that other people don’t see. So as an entrepreneur, if you find out or figure out an idea before other people, that can be your whole business. I want to teach them through experiential learning that there are opportunities everywhere, where you least expect it. That’s why I hid it inside the syllabus,” Klein said.

“I think that if you’re given the opportunity, take it,” Romito said. “I had the opportunity to win forty dollars and I was hesitant at first, if I didn’t go and see if it was real, I would have never won the money. So I say go with your gut and take the opportunities presented to you.” 

Seeing how this lesson was mostly entrepreneurial, how could a professor in another field of study take this type of experiment and apply it to their course?

“I would suggest that they could put something like this in some of their content where students would have to find the certain information and then the professor would know that they are not just reading information and taking a test, but they’re really understanding the content that they are doing,” Klein said.

In the future, Klein’s students may be more inclined to read their syllabi. 

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