Syllabi (and how rapidly they become obsolete)

Jan 18 2011 Published by under Research Data

So I promised I'd throw my syllabus up for folks to look at, and voilà, I have done so.

A few foot-shuffling words about it. This is a library-school syllabus. I am teaching future librarians, archivists, and records managers. I therefore make no apology for the library focus in this syllabus. If approached to work on an informatics course for a science department, I would come up with a very different syllabus indeed. (I'm up for doing that, by the way; just not alone, unless it's a linguistics or digital-humanities course where I have sufficient disciplinary background not to make a total idiot of myself. Don't ask me to teach cheminformatics all on my lonesome, though; no can do. Find me a cheminformaticist or even a chemist to work with, and I'll see what I can accomplish.)

I haven't cribbed (much) from other curricular materials out there. Possibly I should have; I ran short on minutes. Part of it, though, is that I'm an ornery cuss with a full set of my own ornery notions about what newbie librarian data-managers need to know. That set will change over time! I'm already feeling sorry that I didn't stick in a day on personal digital archiving, and I may yet do so, since I cautiously left a free day in the syllabus.

Part of it is also that curricular materials tend to assume a whole program's worth of courses, rather than just one course. If I paid too much attention to DigCCurr, feelings of utter inadequacy would have prevented me from writing a syllabus at all! There's only so much I can do in a single semester.

The fun bit (for certain values of "fun") of writing syllabi is how rapidly they obsolesce. Teaching and working in a rapidly-growing, rapidly-developing area, as I remarked on Twitter this morning, is an exercise in constant "whoa, hey, look at THAT!" moments. Today is the first official day of class for me (although since this class is all-online and I opened it up late last week, several enterprising students have already dug in, and I even have a couple of first-week homework assignments turned in already!), and what should show up in my feedreader but an entire issue of D-Lib Magazine devoted to research data. Total facepalm moment. If this issue had been out when I was syllabus-writing, half of it would have gone in, I'm sure!

So, you know. I do what I can do. I posted a "whoa, hey, look at THAT!" note to the course-management system. I expect I'll post quite a few more of those, as the semester progresses!

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6 responses so far

  • Rob Knop says:

    Woah, that's way more comprehensive than any syllabus I've ever written.

    For my current class, see http://www.phy.questu.ca/phys2 - look at the "syllabus" link. Some of what you have in yours is also in the "schedule" link. I *do* have the advantage of a good textbook that works for the course.

    • Dorothea says:

      I considered using Ross Harvey's book on digital curation as a text for the class. It's quite good! I decided against it mostly for a meta-reason: one of the things I want to teach in this class is current awareness, which they won't learn how to do if I just hand 'em a textbook.

      I did put it on reserve, though.

      The comprehensiveness of the syllabus is a bit of a CYA measure, I admit. There's a longstanding library-school tradition of complaining about "too much theory" or "not learning anything practical." There's another such tradition over "why are we learning this, anyway?" So I try to make what I'm getting at as obvious as possible. In your class, I'm guessing this is less of a problem!

  • John says:

    Wow, looks like a great course! Wish they had classes like yours when I was in library school. I really like the final project, though I'm curious if you've taught this before and, if so, how successful were the team projects?

    • Dorothea says:

      This is the first time through for this course.

      My other course on library technology does a similarly-organized final project, and (after some tweaking of the project outline after the first time through for THAT course) it's working quite well. In all honesty, I think the Stern Warning I give them about group work in librarianship helps a lot; they start to see it as less "lazy prof doesn't wanna grade 40 finals" and more "okay, group skills are skills we'll use in the Real World(tm), so let's knuckle down and do something great together."

      The campus folks I'm working with have been very kind and accommodating, and I know my students are a self-selected bunch capable of great things. I'm hopeful that this will mean good outcomes!

  • Wow, I think anyone fresh out of library school who has successfully completed your course will be better qualified than the majority of applicants for a relevant position, regardless of how much 'experience' they have.

    • Dorothea says:

      Thank you! I do my best.

      I told my students frankly that if they're interested in this career path, they're at a disadvantage compared to a graduate of Illinois or UNC-CH, since both of those have well-known whole programs in data curation. That said, I've placed one student of mine in a very nice position, so I know firsthand the disadvantage can be overcome!

      I'm quite pleased, actually, at how many of my students have hard-science educational backgrounds. That's a definite plus for them!