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.

A Syllabus in the news

The untimely death of David Carr, the New York Times‘s much-loved and -respected media columnist, has sparked interest in an appropriately sharp question: what did he do to earn so much esteem? One of those things was teaching, and one of his recent syllabi cropped up — on Medium, of all places. The Times has a thinkpiece on it, and Molly Wright Steenson has written another. Carr’s syllabus is smart, personal, and indicative of how quickly and completely syllabi are changing.

Welcome, Overview, to the OSP!

The Open Syllabus Project is happy to to have Overview, an open-source document analysis and visualization system originally developed at the Associated Press for investigative journalists, as our newest project partner. The Overview team recently welcomed its own new addition, David McClure, who will be helping the OSP put 2 million scraped syllabi online, do natural language processing to extract citations from each syllabus, and build visualizations to do citation analysis on our massive corpus.

To extend our welcome to David and the rest of our new partners, we wanted to briefly introduce the Overview project and how its goals wonderfully correspond with the OSP’s. As an open-source tool originally designed to help journalists find stories in large numbers of documents, Overview automatically sorts documents according to topic and provides a fast visualization and reading interface. Since right now the OSP has accumulated more than 2 million syllabi, we’re glad to have Overview’s expertise on search and UI to help make all our data user-friendly and accessible.

Syllabi are increasingly messy documents, lacking standardization in both structure and, of course, content. That’s why Overview will be especially helpful for our task: Overview is designed specifically for text documents where “the interesting content is all in narrative form.” It’s been used to analyze emails, declassified document dumps, material from Wikileaks releases, social media posts, online comments, and now syllabi.

As its goal is to make advanced document mining capability available to anyone who needs it, Overview will critically support OSP’s