Of the 199 students who participated in the study, 80% were female and 90% were Caucasian. Only 20% of the students who participated in the study were the traditional college age of 18 to 24, and 20% were age 40 and older. Twenty-eight percent of the student sample had only a high school diploma, 61% had either an associate or bachelor’s degree, 10% had completed a technical or certificate program, and 1% had a master’s degree in non-nursing fields. According to Wlodkowski (1993), all of the students in this study met Knowles’ (1970) definition of an adult learner:
an individual who performs roles associated in our society with adults (e.g., worker, spouse, parent, etc.) and who perceives him/herself to be responsible for his/her own life. (p. 5)
Of the 27 faculty who participated in the study, 100% were Caucasian women, ranging in age from 30 to 50 and older, with the majority (63%) older than 50 years. Teaching experience ranged from zero to more than 16 years, with one third having 5 years or less teaching experience. Seventy-four percent of the faculty held master’s degrees and 26% held doctorate degrees.
When asked to define syllabi, 73% of faculty and 49% of students defined them to be both contracts and learning tools. Approximately 25% of both groups defined syllabi as being contracts only. Students were significantly more likely to define syllabi as strictly learning tools than were faculty (26% versus 0%, p = 0.009).
Both students and faculty were asked to rate, on a 5-point Likert scale, the importance of 20 items commonly included in syllabi that were identified in the literature (Table 1). The Likert scale ranged from 1 (very unimportant) to 5 (very important). Of the 20 items listed, more than 85% of both faculty and students identified the following as important or very important items to include in syllabi: grading criteria for courses, grading criteria for assignments, listings of course assignments, required readings, participation requirements, schedule of class meetings times, assignment and testing deadlines, and faculty contact information.
Table 1: Items Identified as important to very Important to Include in Syllabi Through Chi-Square Analysis of Comparisons Between Instructors (N = 27) and Students (N = 199)
In lieu of these similarities, there were significant differences in how the groups viewed the importance of other syllabi items. Significantly more faculty than students rated purpose of the course (93% versus 69%, p = 0.015), academic honesty and plagiarism policy (89% versus 29%, p < 0.001), and student conduct policy (70% versus 37%, p = 0.005) as important to include in syllabi. Students, on the other hand, were significantly more likely than were faculty to rate extra credit policy (73% versus 33%, p < 0.001) as an important syllabi item.
The findings also revealed a significant difference between students and faculty on four other items: listing of course assignments (95% versus 89%, p = 0.007), makeup policy (87% versus 78%, p = 0.015), schedule of class meeting times (94% versus 89%, p = 0.026), and grading criteria for each assignment (94% versus 93%, p = 0.038). However, the differences between the groups for each of these four items are very small. The differences are a result of the number of faculty, relative to students, who found these items to be very unimportant or unimportant, rather than very important or important. Because of the small numbers in each of these cells, the results are likely an artifact of the disparity in sample sizes, and therefore did not represent a practical difference. According to Agresti and Franklin (2007), the chi-squared statistic does not indicate the nature of the strength of the association and may be misinterpreted if the expected frequencies are too small.
To analyze the data further, the items from Table 1 were categorized by their function, which included orientation items (Table 2), course guidelines (Table 3), and course rules (Tables 4). These three functions were arbitrarily defined by the researchers for the purpose of this study. Orientation items were defined by the researchers as introductions to the course, course guidelines as recommendations, and rules as standard procedures. Respondents were asked to identify the two items from each category they thought were the most important to include in syllabi. The results were analyzed as frequency distributions.
Table 2: Frequency Comparisons of Faculty (N = 27) and Student (N = 199) Responses to Syllabi Items Related to Course Orientation
Table 3: Frequency Comparisons of Faculty (N = 27) and Student (N = 199) Responses to Syllabi Items Related to Course Guidelines
Table 4: Frequency Comparisons of Faculty (N = 27) and Student (N = 199) Responses to Syllabi Items Related to Course Rules
As Table 2 demonstrates, faculty contact information was the most frequently selected orientation item (80%) by both faculty and students. However, students selected this item more frequently than did faculty (83% versus 59%). That students selected academic honesty policy (3%) and student conduct policy (5%) less frequently than other orientation items supports previous findings in this study.
Table 3 presents frequency distributions representing how each group selected course guidelines. No single item emerged strongly in either group as a key course guideline. Relatively more faculty than students identified course objectives (44% versus 17%) and grading criteria for the class (44% versus 31%). However, relatively more students than faculty identified content outline (38% versus 22%), schedule of class meeting dates (43% versus 26%), and grading criteria for each assignment (36% versus 22%) as the most frequently selected guidelines.
As Table 4 demonstrates, assignment deadlines was identified as the most important course rule to include in syllabi by both faculty and students (92%). Proportionately more faculty than students selected attendance requirements (48% versus 31%) and participation requirements (48% versus 24%); more students than faculty selected testing deadlines (43% versus 19%) as the most important syllabi rule.
Both surveys asked faculty and students how important student involvement is in syllabi development. Approximately two thirds of both faculty and students identified student involvement as important or very important (69% and 65%, respectively). However, faculty and students strongly differed in their responses regarding the frequency with which students have been asked to participate in syllabi development. Of the faculty respondents, 92% said they have invited student participation in syllabi development; however, only 12% of students claimed to have been invited by faculty to participate in syllabi development.