Syllabus reboots are strategies for improving student engagement with information traditionally housed in the course syllabus. An engaging syllabus provides a more effective overview of course content, activities, and expectations; introduces your teaching presence and, in some cases, social presence; and better reflects the tone and aesthetics of your course.
Some of the ideas listed here require a complete syllabus overhaul; others involve minor tweaks or describe fun ways for students to engage with the content as it currently exists. All reboots can be used to supplement “official” syllabi when the use of an institutional template and language is required.
Syllabus as learning activity
For a meaningful icebreaker, design your opening activity around a group reading and discussion of the syllabus. Use a format or digital platform that you will be using later in the course so that the activity also serves as an introduction to course tools. Include focus questions or discussion prompts to structure the conversation (specific examples are covered on the “Opening activities” page of this section).
Syllabus as participation
The following syllabus reboots invite students to participate in cocreating the syllabus and course experience with a range of options:
- Student choice: Give students options for course content, assignments, and their commitment level (see “How to Take This Course,” p. 2).
- Community rules: Invite students to create their own course expectations and rules of participation.
- Open syllabi: Coauthor a syllabus with students in a wiki or shared document.
Syllabus as a graphic
Information design research informs us that how information is presented affects how it is perceived, processed, and remembered. While some of these reboots may seem superficial, they all challenge you to consider the structure and purpose of every part of your course while also conveying that information to your students in aesthetically appealing ways.
Below are some ideas for enhancing the presentation of your materials to improve clarity and appeal. If you are required to use a syllabus template by your program or institution, consider applying them to related or supplemental materials:
- Graphic novel
- Concept map: Learning objectives and course topics and materials
- Story maps
- Accessible syllabus: Accessible classroom resources
- Chronical of Higher Education: Small changes in teaching: Giving them a say
- Inside HigherEd: Give your syllabus an extreme redesign for the new year