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Data-Based Decision Making


ED690 The Components of Syllabus - A Study on Syllabi from US Leading Education Programs

Related Artifacts:
ED 690 Literature Review

I conducted a research on components of syllabi in higher education in ED 690–Methods of Inquiry. The assignment deliverables included a literature review, a final research paper and a presentation. My use of research methodology demonstrated achievement of the data-based decision making standard: “Value the use of data as the starting point for professional work”.

Project Description

The assignment required students to walk through the entire research process including identifying viable research issues to investigate, reviewing a series of literature, collecting relevant data, analyzing data using statistical software, and reporting the analysis result.

While reading through the textbook and handouts for the course, I searched for a researched topic that met the requirements of the assignment, was interesting to me, and was of a scale which allowed completion within one semester. Since my interest of study has been in distance education and my work in real life is an e-coach for a teacher development program, I thought, “Why not take the opportunity to conduct a structured study on syllabi for courses provided by education programs at graduate school in the US?” My instructor approved the topic and there began my research.

After reviewing the literature, I came out with several investigational hypotheses and tried to collect data. Some of them proved difficult to go on because it's not possible to get enough data within a short period of time with the limitation of my social connection. Finally, I settled on studying the components of syllabi from five leading education programs in the US. I compared the ideal, what experts said about an exemplary syllabus, with the actual, how instructors compose their syllabi; I analyzed differences between institutions; and I identified areas where the learning management systems have impact on the form of syllabi.

In order to practice inquiry methods learned from the course, I tried to use both quantitative and qualitative methods in the research following the steps below.
  • Identified an investigational hypothesis
  • Conducted a review of twenty literatures covered many aspects of course syllabi
  • Determined an implementable research design
  • Selected sampling techniques
  • Developed efficient and ethically sound data collection methods: I searched over the Internet using Google to obtained five lists of syllabus-like documents from the five target education programs. Then, manually examined each documents until ten full syllabi were collected for each education program.
  • Determined procedures and methods of analyzing data and inferring meaning from the results: At first, twenty-four items were taken as the initial coding scheme, then were expanded to fifty items while changing from scale questions to binominal questions. I then conducted a content analysis.
  • Reported the findings and provided suggestions to people who need them.


  • Demonstrating Data-based Decision Making Standard

    I have demonstrated mastery of data-based decision making standard by "using data as the starting point for making conclusiond in professional research". Fifty syllabi from graduate schools of education at Columbia University, Harvard University, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles, and Vanderbilt University were collected to discover the present use and the transformation of syllabi used by both classroom teaching and online teaching. Conclusions made in this research, such as components that were often neglected, differences between paper-based syllabi and web-based syllabi, etc., were based on evidences pulled from collected data.

    Problems & Opportunities Encountered

    Main problems I encountered while conducting the research were to define a proper scope for the research and data collection. In the beginning, I was over-ambitious. I wanted to come out with a research result that represented general status of syllabus used in all graduate schools of education in theUS. Then I found that I could not collect enough data within the given time frame. The research scope soon narrowed down to five leading programs. As for data collection, I applied search tips learned from literature review to accelerate the data collection process. The use of key-in keywords: “syllabus site:school_URL” in search engines resulted in hundreds of syllabi and many irrelevant materials containing the word ‘syllabus’ but which were not really a syllabus. I had to spend a remarkable time to filter out the irrelevances. I also had to skip syllabi that were too simple to deliver solid information manually. These were really labor-consuming tasks.

    On the other hand, completing this research provided me with good opportunities to implement many of the principles, theories and models that I had studied up to that point. Applying the content analysis, creating coding schema, using statistical software to perform various analysis, reviewing literature to learn from it as well as avoid weakness in past studies were a nice way to tie together concepts, principles and processes. 

    Lessons Learned

    The project enabled me to carry out research through the essential framework of academic inquiry introduced in Leedy’s Practical Research. I started with a hypothesis that interested me and was worthy for a research; then, investigated the possibility of success. Due to contextual factors, I modified the hypothesis several times while reviewing literature and collecting data for a pilot test.

    Secondly, I had the opportunity to structure the research and establish sampling techniques. I was able to develop a data collection method that was executable within the limitation of labor and time. The data collected were successfully implemented to a database that could be sorted in many orders and, then, be integrated into statistical software, SPSS.

    Thirdly, I conducted content analysis and practiced frequency, binominal, and cross-tab tests. All these analyses helped me extract meaning of the data.

    Finally, I reported the findings by writing a formal research paper. Although it was not a perfect research, the structured methodology and systematic thinking strategy increased my appreciation of the use of data for professional work.