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What a Million Syllabuses Can Teach Us (nytimes.com)
37 points by clured on Jan 23, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments

Something's wrong here. My department has public, well archived, trivially crawlable syllabi going back to 2002. So I did a search of my own department's syllabi using the provided database, and discovered: zero of the entries returned are syllabi. They're just references to books.

Co-author here. Yes, this UI is showing metadata extracted from the syllabi (namely, text assignments). Not the documents themselves, which, unfortunately, we're unable to make public for a mix of copyright and privacy reasons.

Why do you need to provide the documents? Why not just provide links to them? Google can do this with no legal issues: surely you can too.

like the GP, I was also disappointed not to have links to the original syllabi if it's available online.

For subjects like Human Anatomy, the list of potential books is very limited, but I'm more interested in how the course is structured. Which anatomical structures or body regions are highlighted or covered, whether the syllabi uses systems or regional approach etc.

When ever I want to learn something on my own, especially a comparative study, I include the search terms "syllabus' and 'reading list'. I figure there must be a class somewhere that has already covered this ground.

Also try that subject and "journal club".

Is there any kind of proposed standard for the metadata of a syllabus? I'd love to use it myself, I find myself recreating my own syllabi as a plaintext (Markdown) document, over and over, when it seems like the recipe is clear enough to do it in a way that can easily be converted into machine-readable metadata.

No, I don't believe there is, but something like that would be fantastic. I believe some universities in the UK publish reading lists in XML format, but I don't know of any US universities that do that.

It would certainly make this kind of citation analysis much easier and more accurate. Syllabi are tricky to work with because there's basically no standardization in how texts are referenced / assigned. Sometimes there's a full, structured bibliographic citation, but more often it's just a title / author pair, and the formatting can vary widely. It's an interesting information extraction problem.

Other author here... There is this new W3C initiative: https://www.w3.org/community/schema-course-extend/

Thanks! Excellent article btw

More generally, we decided that trying to get faculty to adopt better structured authoring tools for syllabi was hopeless. There are lots of good, unused syllabus-building tools.

Examples of such tools? Preferably open source

I used to use "syllabus" and a book names/authors to find parallel course material in Google for college. It helped me immensely, because I could find many examples of online lecture notes, exams, homework solutions, and other materials which weren't available to me. I think this is harder today as many schools move towards consolidates, closed-off systems for managing their resources.

Okay, I really like this and have thought about creating something similar before... BUT. I think you're missing an essential piece of the puzzle if you don't provide, short of the syllabi themselves, at least the ORDER in which the books are supposed to be read. What's interesting about the syllabi is their structure more than their content.

Interesting. It would be nice to see mathematics.

I am surprised math isn't included. At least, there's computer science. BTW, I like your free Linear Algebra book.

I scraped several 10Ks of math syllabi, so I know they're in there. Not sure why the field got zapped as a filter. To be fixed in v.5

Thank you. I find I cannot hear that enough. :-)

Is it possible to download the bulk data, e.g. CSV files via FTP, for noncommercial use in a personal database?

Apparently a million is insufficient to teach that the plural is syllabi.

Edit: user whyenot illustrated what I should have investigated myself, which is that "syllabuses" is totally fine. Ouch! Downvotes richly deserved!

Nice snark, but, syllabuses is also acceptable.


Touché! Snark retracted. Thanks for the correction.

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