I do know that the correct word to name the document that describes a subject is “syllabus” but I’m using “teaching guide” here on purpose to discuss the new kind of syllabus we’ve been using since the beginning of our degree, three academic years ago. As degree Coordinator I’m facing now the daunting prospect of checking ALL the Teaching Guides of my colleagues in English Studies to make sure that they are indeed available and properly filled in. I’m not sure how many I’ll receive punctually but I’m satisfied that things work reasonably on this account in my Department, where, yes, we have this tendency to out-Pope the Pope, as we day in Spanish.
How do I know? Well, I attended a Coordinators’ meeting this week and I was truly appalled to hear that many Humanities teachers are not just dragging their feet but resisting with all their might the very idea of having to write a Teaching Guide. Not just because spelling out the competences for each subject is mind-boggling and time-consuming but rather because they do not want to commit themselves to a reading list and a programme –um, I’m not sure whether they mean right now or never. A Coordinator passed on her Department’s complaint that now we’re too busy marking essays so as to think of what students need to read from 12 September onwards. Considering that students will register on 16 July, I wonder when these teachers will find it convenient to publish their syllabus.
Yes, we’re terribly pressed for time but this is how we do our job. I don’t want to put myself as an example of anything but those of you following this blog will recall a recent posting about the plays I’m reading at full speed for my next year subject. Yes, I was tempted to leave the play list open but a) it’s a bad example for the students, who think we improvise all the time; b) all the work I’m doing now is time I’ll gain when teaching the subject, as I know from experience. As for the Teaching Guide, I do profoundly agree with my colleague from Zaragoza, Paco Collado, who complains that it stresses abilities at the cost of downplaying knowledge. In a Teaching Guide you CAN’T say that on completion of the subject the student will have a sound knowledge of, say, British Drama; you MUST claim that s/he will be ABLE TO SHOW his/her understanding of the main lines of British Drama, as teaching has become now training TO DO SOMETHING, not to KNOW SOMETHING. However, I have always supported the idea of the Teaching Guide as a very convenient teaching tool to which you can refer at any time, and indeed as a contract with the students. I was taught to see it that way in 1998, when I started working for UOC, a virtual university for which the Teaching Guide is almost sacred. It’s taken UAB a long time to catch up…
A Teaching Guide is not, however, and should never be a straightjacket. This semester, for instance, with all the disruptions caused by the strikes, we’ve had to improvise much syllabus-wise. The Guide is, precisely, a Guide to guide both teachers and students and also a healthy reminder that we teachers need to get used to specifying how we teach and how we assess students in a public document. I won’t go now into that other problem, which is some teachers’ absolute reluctance to sharing a Teaching Guide with their colleagues. Or I will, as that’s simple for me: I’m happy to say that I work for a Department in which teachers understand that a subject taught by different teachers must offer to all the groups involved the same contents and assessment methods –your ‘libertad de cátedra’ or academic freedom should apply to how you teach not to what you teach when you share a subject (quite another matter is an elective). I can, though, imagine very well the tensions that these anti-Teaching Guide teachers are suffering and I’m sorry for them.
Having said all this, I must now answer the question everyone is asking me: do students read the Teaching Guide for each subject? I wonder!! I do know that we’re writing the TGs for a future degree assessment by the corresponding authorities, bent on using the scissors on us, yet I do hope the TGs are also useful as what they should be: good teaching tools for all.