Crafting better syllabi

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Crafting better syllabi

Pexels (Bich Tran)

The new semester is soon starting. This made me think about effective syllabi. There are a lot of general checklists out there e.g. 8,9,10,11.

But I was also wondering what empirical studies say about effective syllabi. Some results are:

  1. “Students had a strong preference for the simple syllabus”, which they see as “a reference document”1.
  2. A syllabus that “used images and visual tools to package the course content into a more visually appealing document” led to students being “more interested in the course and also viewed the professor more positively”4, referencing Ludy et al (2016) . Some recommend to make the syllabus more personal by including e.g. a photo of the instructor2,3.
  3. A syllabus “will engage students more effectively if it is “learner-” as opposed to “content-centered.””, i.e. e.g. uses language such as “you” and “we” instead of “students” or “the course”5, referencing Palmer et al. (2016) .
  4. “First-year students often are not aware that university support services exist, and thus may not access resources that could make the difference between success and
    failure in a course or their academic careers (Collins 1997)”6, p. 162  Thus, the syllabus should include information about them.
  5. The same syllabus written in a different tone led to significant differences in how the instructor was perceived (e.g. “warmer, less cold, more approachable, and more motivated to teach the course” if the syllabus was written in a “friendly” tone) and in how difficult the course was seen7, p. 326.

Besides the general checklists, there are also many sites that deal with specific aspects such making syllabi reflect diversity and inclusiveness. This includes diversity statements 12,13,14 and accessibility statements 15,but also an inclusive syllabus checklist 16.

The research evidence and checklists gave me several ideas on how to improve my syllabi. I’m excited to see how my students will react to the new format : )

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