Open Syllabus

Overview

Open Syllabus is a non-profit research organization that collects and analyzes millions of syllabi (any detailed account of an academic class or class section) to support novel teaching and learning applications.

Open Syllabus currently has a corpus of 9 million English-language syllabi from 140 countries. It uses machine learning and other techniques to extract citations, dates, fields, and other metadata from these documents. The resulting data is made freely available via the Syllabus Explorer and for academic research.

All the syllabi in the current collection are English language documents, including from universities where English is not the primary teaching language.  It is estimated that around 5-6% of the U.S. curricular universe over the past several years is included at Open Syllabus.

Open Syllabus gets its syllabi primarily by crawling publicly-accessible university websites. Faculty contributions make up a small but significant portion of the collection. They also form the basis of an emerging ‘full permission’ collection that Open Syllabus plans to index, display, and make available for download in a later version of the Explorer.  The Syllabus Explorer has a master catalog of titles that it can identify within the syllabus collection.  In Explorer Version 2, the catalog is primarily a combination of The Library of Congress, Open Library, Crossref—the latter a scholarly publishing catalog with records for around 80 million articles.  Open Syllabus also incorporates the Open Textbook Library, which allows for tracking the adoption of openly-licensed titles.

The Open Syllabus classifiers identify 62 fields derived from the U.S. Department of Education’s Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP 2015).

Institutional attribution is based on a mixed analysis of URLs and e-mail strings found in the documents, which are then mapped to Digital Science’s GRID database of research and teaching institutions as well as IPEDS data. All tools available through the Explorer limit exploration to statistical aggregates and metadata extracted from the syllabi.  These practices do not expose personally identifying information. There is also set minimum number of syllabi required to search fields within schools or countries (250).  As a result, individual teaching choices are submerged in larger aggregates.

Open Syllabus does not display syllabi from countries or territories where it thinks the disclosure of teaching choices could put faculty at risk or diminish academic freedom. The list of excluded countries and territories is based, in part, on the Scholars at Risk Network’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project and related Free to Think reports, as well as Freedom House country reports.

Open Syllabus serves a number of stakeholders:

  • Helps instructors develop classes
  • Helps libraries manage collections
  • Helps presses develop books
  • Supports students and lifelong learners in their exploration of topics and fields
  • Creates incentives for faculty to improve teaching materials and to use open licenses
  • Supports work on aligning higher education with job market needs and on making student mobility easier
  • Challenges faculty and universities to work together to steward this important data resource.
  • Academic researchers working through their universities can request access to the data.

A future goal of the initiative is to build a Syllabus Commons, in which universities pool syllabi and support the work of the Open Syllabus.

Background

The project was founded at The American Assembly, a public policy institute associated with Columbia University. It has been independent since 2019.

Partners

The Arcadia Fund, The ECMC Foundation, The Sloan Foundation, The Hewlett Foundation, The Templeton Foundation, Catalyst Grant from Digital Science (2018)

Resources

https://opensyllabus.org/

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