Designing a Visual Syllabus

A syllabus is a challenging document to create. It’s hard to distill all the procedural information that students need and organize it into something that’s easy to understand. It seems like everything is important! But when I was given an English I class after teaching English II for awhile, I decided to try something different!

private honors eng ii syllabus 2018 screen shot 2019-01-03 at 7.08.47 pm

 

A visual (or infographic-style) syllabus is definitely a change of pace from the traditional text-dense document. Don’t get me wrong; I really like my text-based syllabus. The right-hand side gives specific examples of behaviors that are important to me. However, I’ve found that while students might skim those points and find them interesting, they don’t revisit them or remember them.

In order to keep the visual syllabus from looking crowded or cluttered, I have to pare down the content even further. This creates a stronger focus on the information I choose to include. In addition, the process of choosing what stays and what goes is a reflective exercise that helps me clarify for myself what I believe students need as a foundation, and what should build on that foundation.

Colleen Robb makes the excellent point that if you’ve taught a course before, it’s helpful pinpoint information that students tend to forget and focus on that.

Curtis Newbold has a more in-depth explanation of how to make an infographic-style syllabus. While I love using color, if you’ll be printing copies, it may be helpful to see what your visual syllabus looks like in black and white, as color copies can be very expensive. Additionally, if you do splurge on color copies, print a test copy first. I found that the purple on the syllabus was a lot darker when it printed than it looked on the digital version.

My syllabus was created with Piktochart, but there are other free online tools such as Canva and Venngage. You can also use a design program like Publisher or InDesign, or a graphics program like Photoshop or GIMP.

Do you have any other suggestions? Have you ever tried a visual syllabus?

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