Rethinking the Syllabus

This project originally came about after I radically redesign my syllabus in order to better address the needs of my students. My goal was to reduce the number of questions I was asked about things already in the syllabus by making it more accessible to students. My efforts were a success and I have run several professional development sessions on how faculty can improve their syllabus's effectiveness on campus. I have also presented it at the 2014 LAND Conference (Liberal Arts Network for Development) and won first place in the Adjunct Faculty category. I have continued to perfect my syllabus and incorporated QR codes into this semester to allow students to easily add assignment deadlines to their calendars and my contact information to their contacts.

The syllabus is an important document both for faculty and for the students. It’s often the first communication you have with the students. It contains all important information students need to know to be successful in the class. However, it is also typically the least interesting document you provide the students with over the course of class. It usually involves numerous pages chock full of information that all looks the same at first glance. Students don’t want to have to work that hard to find the information. Subsequently, the syllabus ends up in some corner of their room, car or bag only to never be seen again. As a faculty member, you are left with a constant stream of questions that could be easily answered by the syllabus.

The easy fix for this is to make your syllabus a more interesting and more useable document that students want to hang on to because they clearly see its value. You should highlight areas that are very important like your contact info and assignment submission guidelines. Show information visually as well as in written format. Add imagery that better explains what the class is about. The main goal should be to make a student excited to be in your class as well as to better communicate requirements and expectations to the students. If a student sees the value of your syllabus, they will hang on to it and, more importantly, they will remember that the information they need is in there.