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Case 93. Change in the Classroom


Craig Thompson, a new assistant professor, is teaching introductory sociology in his first semester in a tenure track position. He has developed a syllabus that includes a detailed plan for the course, readings, a set of assignments and exams, and a grading scheme. These are all laid out in detail on the syllabus. Given that he has little teaching experience and no teacher training, Thompson has done a thorough and commendable job. However, close to midterm, he attends a conference on teaching and learning where he is introduced to research suggesting that his approach has problems connecting to students with different learning styles and, even for more traditional students, does not maximize their learning in the course. During the next class, Thompson announces that he has decided to change some of the format and assignments in the class. A number of students complain, arguing that the syllabus is, in essence, a legal contract and that students signed up for that set of arrangements which cannot be changed.


  1. Are the students correct in their claims about the nature of the syllabus? Is this an issue of good practice or ethics?
  2. What ethical dilemma does Dr. Thompson face if he changes the course midstream and if he doesn't?
  3. How are the responsibilities of the teacher linked to the responsibilities of students?
  4. What would you advise Professor Thompson to do in this situation?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.