30 Day Challenge – Day 23 – “Graphic” Syllabus?

Today’s thoughts come on the tail of course design preparations. I don’t know about you all, but I am generally frustrated with writing syllabi that students typically don’t read, read deeply, and don’t revisit throughout the term. I want to be clear, however, I’m not blaming students. If I could get away with not studying a syllabus and still get the grade I want, then I wouldn’t read it either. The same is true for attending class. Why do it?

The instructor in me has multiple reasons for reading syllabi and attending class. I have multiple reasons that speak to the ideals of an education and the importance of killing the gamesmanship mentality. I’ve already admitted that I was an accomplished gamesman, so I can’t get too upset with students. I believe that humans are natural economic thinkers: we want the most benefit with the least investment. So, should I continue to provide resources I know students typically toss or lose after the first session?

Well, there is the “cover my ass” mentality. I hear this one a lot from instructors, and I’ve felt the pressure as well. No one wants a chair or dean having to deal with a student who blames you for lack of clarity and direction! Important, but not sufficient for my point today. I wonder if I could make the syllabus a powerful resource? I wonder if I can make it a living document that reflects the culture of a particular class session? Would it have greater value for students and teacher?

Day 23 questions: What would a dynamic syllabus built on illustrations look like, and why do it? What positive things could result if students could build it?

There are quite a few examples of graphic syllabi. One need only “google” the topic. You’ll find that most are built on graphs or charts outlining logical relationships to be addressed as the course progresses.

Here is an example from an economics course.

Here is an example from an English course cited in an blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education blog profhacker.

I think such approaches can be very helpful, but they don’t capture what I’m trying to think through here. I’m suggesting that the syllabus be a living document. We create the outline and give students the freedom and responsibility to develop it so that its construction captures the essence of the intellectual work, content investigations, and intellectual development in the course. The syllabus, then, is a reflection of the class culture for that semester. It’s theirs. What is the role of the instructor?

Well, I don’t assume that students (even graduate students) can be properly self-directed. I don’t assume students can accurately identify and understand the essential concepts, principles, methods and axioms that characterize the particular discipline under investigation. I don’t assume that students know the minimum range of questions one must ask to think with discipline in the subject. I don’t assume that students know how to conduct a robust literature review, or develop learning modules (themes, assignments, and activities) that will help students build ever increasingly more sophisticated lines of reasoning. I don’t assume that students can actively work to self-motivate. I’d like to assume these things and others, but experience has taught me otherwise. So, my role is to help them do these things, and do them well.

Do I have example to share? I’m working on it, and I’ll post it when the blueprint is built. I’ll also seek student approval to share their work once the course is finished.

4 thoughts on “30 Day Challenge – Day 23 – “Graphic” Syllabus?

  1. It would be interesting to have a skeleton graphic syllabus in the course wiki that then was co-constructed with your students on day one … and revisited throughout the course as the outcomes were refined…by both you and the students. Food for thought…

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