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A Potpourri of Syllabus Ideas (Courtesy of Our Readers)

Editor's Pick Revisiting the Syllabus Syllabus

A Potpourri of Syllabus Ideas (Courtesy of Our Readers)

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Our reader-submitted collection of syllabi and ideas about them contains any number of interesting ways of handling the small syllabus details and larger ways of dealing with the whole document. Here’s an assembled group of those small and large ideas, listed in no particular order but all worth your consideration.

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Our reader-submitted collection of syllabi and ideas about them contains any number of interesting ways of handling the small syllabus details and larger ways of dealing with the whole document. Here’s an assembled group of those small and large ideas, listed in no particular order but all worth your consideration.

Small changes

Most syllabi contain a host of course- and learning-related details. These individual pieces are small parts that collectively make up the syllabus. However, changing one can have ripple effects across the entire document. These are small details, but in the case of the syllabus, they do make a difference.

“I profess to learn and to teach anatomy not from books but from dissections, not from the tenets of Philosophers but from the fabric of Nature.”—William Harvey

William Harvey, b. 1578, was an English physician. He was the first to describe completely and in detail the systemic circulation.

Figure 1. Humorous graphics from Valerie Guyant’s composition syllabus
A list of four course goals (left column) and the assignments and activities that satisfy them (right column). The course goals are as follows: (1) Thinking Critically and Creatively, (2) Communicating Effectively, (3) Local-to-Global Connections, and (4) Responsibilities of Community Membership. An illustration accompanies each of the these points: a brain, a text bubble, a globe, and three human heads, respectively.
Figure 2. Course goals graphic from Lillian Nave’s Art, Politics & Power syllabus

Bigger changes

A syllabus can be reformatted, supported with a new activity, or used to accomplish different goals. The content may be the same, but these alternations can change how students receive it. The syllabus looks and sometimes feels different—maybe it seems more important, friendlier, more helpful, or easier for students to find what they need to know about the course.

Two sample welcome folders with pineapple-shaped welcome notes on the front. The note on the top folder reads, "Jane, Welcome to science methods! Have a wonderful semester! Dr. Schisler."
Figure 3. Sample welcome folders prepared by Laura Schisler

The difference between the two grading breakdowns is minimal. The real value in this exercise was that the students felt more empowered going into the class, and I could feel that energy carry throughout the course. Opening the class by requesting their participation in the structure of the course set the tone for valuing student participation throughout the quarter. Numerous students commented favorably on this experience in my course evaluations and this is an exercise I will conduct again for future syllabi.

Reviewing these ideas and various approaches shows the value of sharing what we’re doing on and with our syllabi. Not everything here is suitable for every course, but many of these options transcend course content. They’re also useful because they spark our own thinking. Maybe a particular idea won’t work, but something like it could.

Thanks again to the faculty who shared, and kudos for their creativity.