Design a Sensational Syllabus

Welcome to the Fall ’18 semester!

I hope this e-mail catches you while you’re developing or revising your syllabi this week. This document can be one of your most effective communication tools. A syllabus sets the tone for your course (Harnish & Bridges, 2011) so be mindful about what tone you wish to set as you create it. Here are three tips to ensure your syllabus effectively communicates what you want it to.

  1. Make it Inclusive  – Scan your syllabi for content that could potentially be exclusive, and thus perhaps inaccessible, to some student groups (e.g. first-gen, low-income, international, certain genders, athletes etc.). Consider a reading list that includes diverse authors. Consider allowing students to purchase previous (and thus cheaper and more accessible) versions of a textbook. Consider allowing students to vote on the sequence of some parts of the curriculum as suggested in the book Why Students Resist Learning. Most importantly, be sure that all sections of your syllabus meet accessibility requirements (see attached tips and contact info for assistance)?
  2.  Introduce Yourself –Sure, office location and e-mail address are important to mention, but consider including a photo of yourself along with a few sentences about your hobbies, where you’re from, something unique about you, etc. Academic achievement is linked to student-teacher connection (Konishi, Hymel, Zumbo, & Li, 2010) so anything you can do to strengthen that connection is a solid investment in your students.
  3. Be Aware of Bloat – Is your syllabus more like a novel? It can be tempting to include every bit of information a student could possibly need along with a series of disclaimers addressing any and all possible scenarios. A syllabus shouldn’t read like a smartphone’s Terms & Conditions that few people ever read. If a syllabus is long enough to discourage reading, then it ceases to be a communication tool. Aim for the sweet spot of including adequate and relevant information without overloading students.

Have a wonderful first week of classes!

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