by Jen Gregory, Director of Instructional Design
- Spend some time planning (or reviewing) the course
Imagine you signed up for an African safari. You were told that you’d see lions, elephants, giraffes, rhino and zebras. But at the end of your trip you only saw lions. Your safari leader apologizes and explains that he planned poorly and didn’t leave enough time to get you to the other animal’s habitats. You would probably feel disappointed and disillusioned about that leader.
Your students want the same thing from your syllabus. They want to know what exciting things to expect to learn as well as the hard work they’ll have to do to get there.
Before writing or revising your syllabus, think about the course from the very first day until the final exam. Plan the learning objectives, the activities, the assessments and everything in between. If your syllabus is to be a complete, factual representation of your course, then it is important that you have a clear understanding or map of how you’ll get to your destination!
- Use pictures
There are a whole host of ways to incorporate pictures into your syllabus. Some people will depict the distribution of grades in a pie chart to help students understand the importance of, say participation. Include a picture of you so that students can get used to seeing your face and can recognize you on campus.
I’ve inserted a small, color picture of the textbook next to the textbook name so that students can be sure to visually identify the right edition when they buy it. Many syllabi are posted in Blackboard so you don’t have to incur the cost of color printing.
You could even make your entire syllabus into an infographic. Click here to read more on this topic from The Visual Communication Guy’s blog – https://thevisualcommunicationguy.com/2014/07/02/would-a-course-syllabus-be-better-as-an-infographic/
- Be explicit about policies
… and then stick to them. I’m talking about academic policies like accepting of late work and civility policies like eating in class. You need to decide which policies to mention and what side of the fence you’re on with them, but put them in the syllabus so there isn’t any guessing about your stance. Do you want students to be able to check their cell phones during class? Is it okay if they snack during your lecture? How quickly can they expect to get graded work back? Think about these and the other questions that students often have and answer them in your syllabus. You could include a Q & A section where these questions are addressed.
- Inject your personality
Your class is way more than just the content. You and your personality have a lot to do with how your students will interact with this course. Why not let your syllabus reflect you. What about using humor to get your point across? Whether you’re teaching an on-campus or an online class, how about a short video of you introducing yourself?
- Get your students to read and use the syllabus
What good is writing an awesome syllabus if the students don’t read it? You have put a lot of thought and work into this document and you’re hope is that students will keep it on their bedside table and read it nightly! But often the syllabus is like the owner’s manual that gets overlooked and tossed into a drawer (until something breaks).
You could give your students a quiz on your syllabus. In an online class I taught, the students had to pass the syllabus quiz in order to have the course content revealed. The syllabus quiz works equally as well in face-to-face classes.
Another way to get students looking at the syllabus is to refer to it often in class and ask them to pull their copy out and read along with you as you cover important ideas. For example, as the first test approaches you can refer back to the syllabus and read the policies on test taking. Do you allow them to use their book? Can they use a calculator? How much is this exam worth? All of those questions are (hopefully) answered in the syllabus. Model the behavior of referring back to that important information in your AWESOME syllabus.
For more help with your syllabus, contact me at Jen.Gregory@valpo.edu