Say It With Me: “It’s In the Visual & Accessible Syllabus!”

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

The syllabus communicates critical information students need to revisit throughout the semester.   This presentation provides an overview of how an academic department and an instructional designer developed a visual and accessible syllabus template.  This presentation will also offer tips on developing an engaging, visual and accessible, student-centered syllabus document. 

Extended Abstract

The syllabus document is the first opportunity an instructor has in a course to grab and direct a student’s interest and attention.  Some institutions require that students have access to the syllabus at the time of registration.  The syllabus usually provides an instructor an opportunity to build presence and set the tone for the course.  Most importantly, the syllabus communicates critical information and expectations students need to revisit throughout the semester to stay informed and promote their success in the course.  Throughout the semester, faculty usually find themselves reminding students when answering questions, “It’s in the Syllabus!”  Most research related to syllabus documents involve syllabus length and essential elements of a good syllabus.  When developing syllabus templates, faculty grow concerned that syllabus documents become too lengthy.  Research regarding student feedback on longer syllabus documents has helped to alleviate concerns.  Students perceive instructors who use longer syllabus documents as better prepared and organized.  Hence, faculty recognize that a longer syllabus may be necessary as a way to provide detailed course information and build their credibility with students.  Additionally, faculty also recognize that longer syllabus documents may be more challenging for students to navigate and quickly find critical information.  Therefore, alleviation of faculty concerns regarding longer syllabus documents is short-lived and so is their use of the phrase, “It’s in the Syllabus!” 

Looking to address the challenges created by the paradox of the longer syllabus document and reduce faculty use of the phrase, “It’s in the Syllabus,” an academic department at a large, two-year college worked with an instructional designer to develop a master syllabus template.  The goals of the academic department and instructional designer were to develop a master syllabus template to ensure all department syllabi were consistent in their presentation of critical information, easy to navigate, easy to implement by roughly 50 faculty with varying levels of technical ability, accessible, and incorporated appropriate visual cues to reduce faculty from using special formatted text such as underline, ALL CAPS, or red colored text.  This presentation will provide an overview of how an academic department frustrated with their uninspiring and lackluster syllabus documents collaborated with an instructional designer to design and develop a visual and accessible master syllabus template that students would want to read, and review throughout the semester.  Most importantly, it was important to all those involved that the visual and accessible syllabus template design was rooted in accessibility, institutional policy, and universal design.  

This project to develop a master visual and accessible syllabus template was conducted in three phases.  In the first phase, a faculty committee identified critical information that the template required, the organization of syllabus content, and the minimal visual cues required for the template.  During the first phase, an instructional designer helped the faculty committee develop and pilot the first draft of the visual and accessible syllabus template. During this phase, most of the feedback on how to improve the syllabus template came from faculty.  In the second phase of this project, the faculty committee nominated several faculty to pilot the second draft of the visual and accessible syllabus template in their courses.  During this phase the instructional designer received both faculty and student feedback on how to further improve the visual and accessible syllabus template.  During the third and final phase of this project, the entire academic department adopted and deployed the visual and accessible syllabus document in their respective courses.  During this last phase faculty and student feedback was collected in several courses to further improve the visual and accessible syllabus template.      

During this conference presentation, attendees will be provided with preliminary insights from faculty and students that led to continuous improvement of the visual and accessible syllabus template.  Most importantly, attendees will be provided with an example of a visual and accessible syllabus template, tips and tricks for personalizing the visual and accessible syllabus template, and key universal tools available to measure and fix accessibility errors. Lastly, the presentation will discuss how employing a visual syllabus template helps to reduce faculty workload and effort in creating effective syllabus documents and the use of the phrase, “It’s in the Syllabus!”  The presentation agenda follows.

Presentation agenda:

  • Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Conduct a one-word chat poll: Provide one word in the chat to describe your syllabus document (5 minutes)

  • Main Presentation (30 minutes)

  • Questions (5 minutes)