by Melissa Wehler
Let’s be honest: as students, we didn’t read the syllabus. (In fact, some of our classes probably didn’t even have the concept of “syllabus” that we know, love, and loathe today, but rather a reading list broken into days with some vague assignments like “midterm,” “essay,” and “final” noted beside them.) If we did glance at the syllabus, we probably looked at the same things our students do today: grading, assignments, late work, and attendance. Now that we are on the other side of the desk, we might find ourselves guffawing at the very idea that our students wouldn’t memorize our every (very carefully worded) policy.
Since the time we were undergraduates, not much has changed to make syllabi any more intellectually stimulating. In fact, syllabi have largely gotten longer, with more legal words than academic ones, bogged down by policies meant to close loopholes and mandatory statements passed along by federal, state, and institutional governing bodies. Yet, we remain steadfast and stubborn about our students neglect of this document, perhaps even more so than our professorial predecessors. But if the syllabus is the proverbial course holy grail, how do we ensure students engage with it?
Enter the Easter egg. You may have heard of some of these experiments as they have bounded through your social media platform of choice. Faculty members, looking to test their stalwart students, hide “Easter eggs” in their syllabus. Most times, these “Easter eggs” direct students to do something out of the ordinary like sending a funny message or picture to the professor, emailing advice on what the professor should binge-watch next, or writing a joke at the bottom of the next assignment—all in the hopes that students are reading (and reading closely enough) to catch on to the joke. Everyone enjoys a few moments of levity and prove that they are indeed reading the syllabus.
While of course I want the students to read the syllabus, I also wanted take this Easter egg hunt to the small screen. In my syllabus video for this semester, I hid various “eggs” throughout the content. My intent was to see if students were actively viewing the video, paying close attention to the materials, and dare I say it, engaging with the syllabus.
The results were significant. I found that the majority of my students (17/19) caught at least one of the “eggs” and several more (10) caught all of them. Some of them brought it up on the discussion board at the end of the week, which prompted a few last-minute entries—to which I said better late than never! The result was by the end of the first week, everyone (all 19) had sent in an Easter egg.
While I had used a syllabus video before, my only way to track student engagement was through number of views. I had no way of knowing how many unique students watched the video or if they actually watched it rather than let it play in the background. This was the first time I was certain that everyone watched it—I mean really watched it.
By turning my syllabus into a video, I had moved past the posting the document and hoping for the best, but it wasn’t until I worked in a little fun and a little interactivity that I was able to find what I was looking for.