AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
TitleCreative Approach to the Syllabus
MetadataShow full item record
Regardless of its purpose and format, the course syllabus is one of the most extensively used documents in higher education . Students not only learn about the course (i.e., traditional syllabus) and obligations (i.e., contractual), but also form impressions about their instructor. According to the signaling theory, individuals use limited information provided (in syllabus) to infer broader qualities (about the course and instructor) . Additionally, instructors can ‘signal’ specific information to aid student learning and motivation. As such, it is imperative to create an informative and effective syllabus.
Context and Approach:
In the Fall 2018, I created a newspaper-like syllabus in the Sport Psychology course. A majority of the 28 students were Psychology majors (61%), with the remainder Individualized Studies or from a myriad of disciplines. My outcomes for the students were to take an active role in their learning and captivate and sustain their enthusiasm for learning. To meet these objectives, I created a graphic-rich syllabus. It attempted to meet Nilsons’s  claim that syllabus might “not only [be] the road map for the term's foray into knowledge but also a travelogue to pique student’s interest in the expedition and its leader” (p. 33). This is accomplished through the uses various elements of graphic design (e.g., images, colors) to create document like a newsletter, the uses of text that is student-focused, and the description of the course that connects to broader themes (e.g., life success) or professional experiences . On average, students liked the syllabus a moderate amount (M = 6.29 out of 7) and agreed that it was well organized (M = 5.64 out of 6). The following themes emerged from “what they found the most appealing about the syllabus”: organization, format, presentation of the information, and course component/professor information. Themes that emerged from “what they found the least appealing”: too much/not enough information, format, and course component.
Due to the lack of comparison groups and a formal systematic assessments, I am unable to draw definitive conclusions of the effect of graphic-rich syllabus on students’ engagement and success. Nevertheless, the inclusion of engaging syllabus facilitated my understanding of student preferences. In addition to the class content, teaching methods, and requirements, instructors should consider additional factors when creating the syllabus including a) the presentation of the content and methods in a student-oriented, engaging, and meaningful way, and b) the effect of the presentation on students’ perception of the instructor, interest and motivation in the course .
- Harrington, C.M. and C.A. Gabert-Quillen, Syllabus length and use of images: An empirical investigation of student perceptions. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2015. 1(3): p. 235-243.
- Spence, A.M., Market signaling: Informational transfer in hiring and related screening processes. Vol. 143. 1974: Harvard Univ Pr.
- Nilson, L.B., The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. 2009, San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
- Ludy, M.-J., et al., Student Impressions of Syllabus Design: Engaging versus Contractual Syllabus. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2016. 10(2).