Open Syllabus Project



The Open Syllabus Project (OSP) is building the first large-scale online database of university course syllabi as a platform for new research, teaching, and administrative tools.

We hope the OSP will improve our understanding of teaching, publishing, and intellectual history on a wide range of fronts, such as:

What are the most taught texts? How have fields changed? How do schools or departments within a field differ from one another? What is the demand for Open Access materials?

Because policies and norms around syllabus ownership vary, the OSP won’t publish syllabi without permission. The public side of the OSP will be a collection of tools for analyzing metadata extracted from the documents. We will also, in the course of this work, advocate for stronger open-access policies for syllabi.

We’re still building the community of interest in the project and would welcome help in four broad areas: access to collections of syllabi, tools development, relationships with libraries and archives, and exploration of the research potential of the database.

OSP Workshop Panel Discussions Now Live

Missed the OSP Workshop & Hackathon in June? You can catch up on the discussion in full recordings of our Workshop Panels here. Here’s the full schedule of panels and their participants:



Session 1

Introduction to the Open Syllabus Project Workshop
Description: The Open Syllabus Project (OSP) is building the first large-scale online database of university course syllabi as a platform for the development of new research, teaching, and administrative tools. The inaugural OSP Workshop is devoted to thinking through the social, legal, institutional, and technical challenges associated with this project, and to outlining and implementing plans for the coming year.
The Power of Lots of Syllabi

Description: The workshop brings together researchers and groups who are interested in what can be done with lots of syllabi. One virtue of the OSP — we hope — is that it can serve as a platform for a wide range of these projects.  We want to start the day by putting these goals and agendas on the table for discussion, in the hope of better understanding their implications for the project, the partnering institutions, and the wider scholarly community.

  • Ted Byfield, The New School, Institutional Transparency Agendas
  • Rachel Buurma, Swarthmore College
  • Tessa Joseph Nichols, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
  • Dennis Tenen, Columbia U, Computational Methods for Literary Analysis

Session 3

Legal and Social Challenges around Syllabi

Description: There are no settled norms regarding the ownership, status, or collection

“Hacking at the Open Syllabus Project: Collocations by Subject”

This post was written by the Modern Language Association’s Jon Reeve, who participated in the OSP’s Hackathon last weekend. It was originally published on his blog here.

I was invited to hack around on the Open Syllabus project this past Saturday, which I was really excited to do. They’ve scraped the web and come up with around 1.5 million syllabi, and only just released their API to researchers this weekend. I wanted to run some computational analyses on these syllabi, to attempt questions like:

  • What were the most frequently assigned texts in freshman composition courses?
  • What disciplines exhibit the most variance between their syllabi? That’s to say, which subjects have the most similar syllabi, and which have the most divergent?
  • What disciplines have the longest syllabi?
  • In which disciplines do technological marker words like “blog” or “Twitter” appear most frequently?

To start with, I used a JSON file containing a subset of these syllabi–around 1000, and tagged them by subject, using their first lines and filenames as hints. (See the quick and dirty code here.) I then imported another 600 subject-tagged syllabi from Graham Sack‘s corpus, resulting in a subject-tagged corpus of around 1,300 syllabi. From there, I sorted the results by subject and ran it through NLTK to find collocations–words that frequently occur next to each other.

There were some interesting findings. Some were predictable, like “mineral resources” for Geology, “corale room” for Music, or “Homeric Hymn” for Mythology. Others were revealing about required