First Impressions Matter! An Experiment Comparing Autonomous and Controlling Language in Course Syllabi
International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
The course syllabus serves as an important first contact between professors and students in university courses and the language used in a syllabus can influence students' first impressions of the professor and expectations for the course. Existing research in Self-Determination Theory has shown that autonomy-supportive language leads to increased positive outcomes for students compared to controlling language. The objective of the present studies was to compare an autonomy-supportive with a
... rolling syllabus to see how students felt when reading the syllabus (Study 1), and how the syllabus related to their impressions of the professor, reported motivation, and expectations for the course (Study 2). The results of Study 1 supported that the students reported more positive feelings when viewing the autonomy-supportive syllabus and perceived the autonomy-supportive syllabus was more autonomous and the controlling one was more controlling. In Study 2, the results showed that students who viewed the autonomy-supportive syllabus reported more positive impressions of the professor (more needsupportive, better quality), were more likely to have positive expectations about the course, and more likely to have a self-determined motivation towards attending class compared to students who viewed the controlling syllabus. Overall, the results from both studies supported that there are benefits to using autonomy-supportive language in a syllabus with few side effects. Professors could benefit by making a good first impression upon students by integrating autonomy-supportive language into their syllabus.