There’s no denying that syllabus bloat is a real phenomenon. Every semester, it seems, there’s a push to put more and more in the syllabus. And there’s no denying that it can sometimes be useful to treat the syllabus as a meaningful resource for the whole semester.
However, as Barbara Fister complained at Library Babel Fish this morning (via Mary Churchill), the syllabus is increasingly seen not as a resource, but something everyone skips without reading–Terms of Service agreements :
When you add all those rules to the traditional stuff – course description, the list of assigned texts, the class-by-class schedule, and information about major assignments – these documents get incredibly long and complex. . . . We traditionally go over syllabi on the first day of class, and then we’re annoyed when students miss an assignment or fail to adhere to a rule because “it was in the syllabus.”
And even as the syllabus has bloated beyond all recognition, its basic format has been basically unchanged: the professor’s contact information/office hours, a description of the course, some policies, and a course calendar. While different professors provide these in varying amounts of detail, they still look pretty similar.
As it happens, last week I asked for some examples of visually creative approaches to the syllabus, in response to Elaine Young’s syllabus for a 400-level marketing class. As promised, here are the results:
- Tona Hangen has an amazing post documenting an “extreme makeover” of her US History II syllabus. (Here’s a direct link to the final version of the syllabus [PDF].) Tona’s post lays out the thought process behind the design, and briefly explains how she made the format more engaging.
- For a course on “The Graphic Memoir”, Nels turned the first page of his syllabus (PDF) into a comic (it looks like Comic Life, which Billie has reviewed.
- Susan Sheridan shared her syllabus for Fundamentals of Biological Anthropology (PDF). She uses skeleton action figures to highlight topics and other important information. (I am not a biological anthropologist, but looking up at a skeleton stepping over me certainly pointed up “Primate Locomotion: Survey of Morphology and Locomotor Patterns”!)
- Vanessa Alander has shared two syllabuses, one for a course on “The Outsider” and another for composition. Both have been redesigned with an eye toward visual impact.
- It’s not a full-blown syllabus, of course, but I wanted to link to Billie’s post on the “Graphic Display of Student Learning Objectives,” as a way to think differently about the syllabus.
This isn’t the semester for me to put much effort into too much redesign, but I did think it was only fair that I share an example of my current syllabus. (Which, in fact, I’m no longer distributing as a single document, as you’ll see.) The assignment descriptions are going up this weekend–provided, of course, I don’t lose power from Irene!
Do you have a creative syllabus? Link to it in comments!
Photo by Flickr user g_kat26 / Creative Commons licensed