Monday, January 14, 2013

Spice Up Your Syllabus!

Tona Hangen makes a good point.  The format and style of a course syllabus sends a definite message to students.  How often do professors think about the "look" of their syllabus?  Hangen asks if students would rather read 6-8 pages of dense black-and-white text or a syllabus that looks like a magazine layout?

Here is a taste of Hangen's post on how to bring an "extreme makeover" to your syllabus:

...Giving a syllabus a profound inside-out reorganization is more than just window dressing. It involves deep thought about your course content and how a student encounters it. Marshall McLuhan said, “the medium is the message” and while the traditional medium for a syllabus is a portrait-oriented 8.5×11 text document printed on paper and handed out the first day of class… it needn’t be the only possibility.

I’ve written elsewhere about my experiences with this process, starting with giving the syllabus for my standard US History II course an “Extreme Makeover” for the Spring 2011 term. I called it “extreme” because not only did I adopt some graphic design principles, I also framed the class to give students more responsibility for the learning, including punching some holes in the semester to be filled with student-chosen content later. It was a course redesign on many levels, and the eye-catching syllabus that resulted was the culmination of a deeper rethinking of what I was teaching and what I wanted my students to learn.

As I have reconsidered both the form and function of a college course syllabus, I’ve continued to play with different looks using stock templates in Pages for Mac. My aim is to reduce textual clutter, jargon, and bloat and instead give pared-down, readable, technologically savvy syllabi that suggest—at a glance—my personality and the approach of the course. My Spring 2012 undergraduate courses might serve to illustrate this, displayed as e-magazines using (free) Flipsnack PDF to Flash converter:

Read the rest here.

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