Developing an Interactive Syllabus

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Brief Abstract

Interactive syllabi reformat and expand upon the content of a traditional syllabus in ways which allow students to actively explore, respond to, and participate in course content. This session advises on the design and implementation of a student-centered, interactive syllabus on a website, LMS, or other online platform.

Extended Abstract

How many times have you had a student ask a question and thought to yourself, “It’s in the syllabus!”. The course syllabus is a valuable source of information and expectations for course, yet somehow it is often overlooked by those who need it the most: students. By creating a visually appealing and dynamic syllabus that is student-focused, instructors can encourage students to review and retain syllabus materials. This workshop promotes the design and implementation of an interactive syllabus to engage students for improved understanding and retention and make a better, clearer first impression of your course.

 

The purpose of a syllabus is to introduce students to the instructor and course while also effectively communicating the structure, organization, policies and expectations to students. Ideally, the syllabus also serves as an opportunity for instructors to present students with documentation of these policies and expectations and also allows students an opportunity to clarify these expectations.

 

Although traditional methods of presenting a syllabus may technically succeed in offering students the essential materials and policies for participation in the course, they sometimes fail to capture student attention. An interactive syllabus fulfills the basic purposes of a syllabus but also allows the learner to manipulate the environment, “resulting in multiple and adaptive interpretations necessary for knowledge acquisition” (Richards, S. L. F.  (July/August 2013). The Interactive Syllabus: A Resource-based, Constructivist Approach To Learning. The Technology Source. Retrieved from http://technologysource.org/article/interactive_syllabus/). A successful interactive syllabus is also student-focused. This means that important information is easy for students to find, is engaging and potentially less overwhelming, and may provide evidence or even feedback to the instructor about the degree of student engagement and understanding with the syllabus material so that the instructor might identify and address any areas of misunderstanding.

 

In this workshop, we will review the base of an effective digital, multi-sensory design syllabus that in turn holds students accountable for the course, instructor and institutional expectations, guidelines, policies, and other important information. By the end of this session, participants will be able to 1) recognize effective components of an interactive syllabus and 2) begin the design process for a student-centered interactive syllabus with multi-sensory content.

 

This session will open with a discussion of the practices used or observed by session participants to present syllabi. This conversation will include a consideration of the purpose of a syllabus and benefits and limitations of the previously mentioned practices. The audience will consider the purpose of a syllabus, what makes a syllabus appealing, and what defines an interactive syllabus.

 

Through a demonstration of an interactive syllabus, session participants will learn about the purpose of a syllabus and what makes and interactive syllabus different from traditional methods. Participants will also learn what makes a syllabus student-centered and how to apply this principle in the development of an interactive syllabus.

 

Each section of the sample syllabus will also show a different method or tool that may be used to share essential information in ways that are engaging and dynamic. Tools presented during the demonstration include:

 

  • Voicethread -- Rather than providing a paragraph description of themselves and their background in the course material, we will demonstrate how an instructor might create a video presentation about themselves using the collaborative media tool VoiceThread. Instructors may then invite (or require) students to respond with a video, audio, or text comment of their own, or even create their own presentation.

  • Quizzing via the LMS (in this case, Canvas) -- Instructors may choose to require students to complete a brief quiz about specific content, such as a section on the Honor code or course readings. This quiz may be used just as feedback for the instructor, or may be set as a requirement for students to unlock other parts of the course.

  • Google Docs -- Including information about course policies or assignments in a collaborative editing/commenting tool such as Google Docs allows students to asynchronously ask questions and request clarification. This method allows students to ask questions as soon as they occur to them, saves time answering these questions in the case of face-to-face classes, and finally provides written documentation of these questions and answers for reference later in the semester.

  • H5P -- H5P allows instructors to create interactive content in html5. Options include course presentations, videos with interactive hotspots, and simple games. This sample demonstrates a drag and drop game through which students may quiz themselves on types of plagiarism as part of the “Academic Integrity” portion of the syllabus, providing a fun and low-stakes instrument through which students may self-assess their understanding.

 

The session will also consider other simple ways that content might linked or expanded upon, such as including hyperlinks to related content within the syllabus and external resources of potential interest to students.

 

We will demonstrate with examples of interactive syllabi components displayed in the LMS Canvas. However, the principles and tools presented are largely platform agnostic, and may be created and distributed to students using the digital format of your preference.

 

During the final, innovation portion of the session, participants will be asked to apply the concepts learned during the session. Participants will first be asked how they might improve upon the examples they saw in the presented sample. Then, in small groups and with the guidance of the presenters, they will have the opportunity to apply these concepts to their own courses. We encourage participants to bring a syllabus they are interested in revising (or a framework of a syllabus still in development), however we will also provide hard copies of a sample syllabi for those without a syllabus. Session participants are also encouraged to bring their laptops so that they may explore and begin to implement the tools suggested.