SU creating Web site for posting class syllabi

| Staff Reporter

Correction appended below.

Students frustrated with one-paragraph course descriptions for academic course listings now have a new online resource to help them pick out classes.

Student Union Senators Joseph Marcus and Jake Novick have invented ​SyllabiCentral, a Web site that gathers syllabi from different University courses in one central location in order to give students a better sense of what classes offer.

“Being a bio major, if I wanted to take a psych course or political science course, I would have absolutely no idea what a class would cover because I wouldn’t have a major advisor to go to,” Marcus said. “So this would be especially useful for introductory-level classes that really don’t change much year to year.”

The senators hope that the program will have all course syllabi up by next semester. So far, SyllabiCentral has about 400 syllabi uploaded to its database, which is accessible to students online.

Since course listings for spring 2010 were posted a couple of weeks ago, Marcus said he has seen an increase in the number of visitors to SyllabiCentral.

Chethan Rao is a junior who has been using SyllabiCentral since its initial stages.

“Sometimes the synopses on course listings aren’t enough to know if you’re interested in the class,” Rao said. “It helps to know what kind of books you’ll be reading and details like that.”

While SyllabiCentral is intended primarily for students, faculty can also find the information useful.

“It’s good for faculty because you get a better look at who wants to take your class and hopefully it decreases the volatility in the shopping period in the first couple weeks of class, where a lot of people just go to class to grab a syllabus to see if they want to take it and decide. Why not speed that up a little bit and help people plan out their courses?” Novick said.

Allan Larson, professor of biology, agreed. While the biology department currently has many course syllabi already listed on its Web site, SyllabiCentral would be able to link these syllabi with a central database.

“I hope that all departments and instructors will work with SyllabiCentral to create a comprehensive source of course syllabi,” Larson said.

SyllabiCentral mirrors many other programs at Washington University’s peer institutions.  Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown and the University of Southern California all have password-protected course syllabi, and Duke has open syllabi online.

While SyllabiCentral is still a work in progress and syllabi are being added as they come in, there has been no set schedule for implementation.  Currently, Marcus and Novick have been trying to meet with as many departments and programs as possible in order to get support behind the project before releasing it to the entire University. So far, response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Just as the project itself is about gathering everything into one place, it’s all about gathering the support in one place as well,” Novick said.  “Right now, we’re just trying to lay as much groundwork as possible.  If we can get all the intro classes, all the classes that have been taught consistently over time, the rest will come later and eventually fill out.”

The Student Technology Advisory Committee has been providing initial guidance.

“When we want this type of software, this type of database—this is not my expertise,” Novick said. “This is where they come in and this is where they support us.”

Interested students willing to provide feedback about the project are encouraged to contact

Correction: The Student Technology Advisory Committee has provided initial support and will be helping with later implementation of this project. They are not, at this stage, managing the technical implementation.

  • Adam

    This is very good work. You have done a lot of homework on this topic and it certainly shows in the way you have represented your material. I enjoyed this article and appreciate your viewpoints.

  • Jake Novick

    Anon – the URL is not public. If you would like to gain access to this resource please email us at

  • Awesome job, Jake and Joseph! This is going to be incredibly useful when I’m signing up for classes.

  • It is good that this is a student initiative, not controlled from the top down, as is all too common at this University. It is good that you are respecting faculty concerns.

  • anon

    What is the url for the website?

  • Jake Novick

    Renee – Joseph and I have been working with administration and faculty to garner their support. As far as we’ve seen, there has been overwhelming support for our project and most faculty have been excited that students are taking on this project. We will continue to get more backing from administration and faculty and then move to make this part of the university’s resources.

    As for copyright issues – currently, SyllabiCentral has restricted access – we must authorize any user. Further, the vast majority of syllabi on the site are taken directly from faculty websites. Again, the beauty of this project is not that we are creating new content, but that we are centralizing a lot of information that students want into a one-stop shop.

  • Renee

    Does administration support this? Are there any copyright/protected information issues?

  • Jake Novick

    Just to clarify on the last part of this article. STAC currently does not have any responsibility regarding this project, but we look forward to having their help in the future when it is warranted. Right now, it is just Joseph and I who run SyllabiCentral from the administrative side and the web side.

    The STAC has given us preliminary support of our project. We have been doing this research and garnering of support around the university, SO THAT we can go back to STAC to get their guidance on how to move forward from a technological standpoint.

  • Kathryn B.

    This is a GREAT idea.

  • David

    I really like that this is taking place to better educate students about courses. This may be off topic but I am wondering why the course evaluations are only at the end of each semester. As far as student benefit… wouldn’t a midterm evaluation hold teachers just as accountable as students (with midterm tests). That way teachers can be assessed for improvement. Anyone have any thoughts.