5401 Syllabus Teaching

Creating a Better Syllabus

TL;DR I created a graphic syllabus. The final product is cool, but it took a lot of time. I’d do it again. It was fun.

So with a new semester approaching, I decided it was time to do a better job with my course syllabus. And having been inspired by some of my colleagues, including Dr. Lindsay Hamilton (@DrLHamilton), I committed to creating a more engaging “graphic” syllabus for my Inquiry Science Pedagogy and Practice course, a secondary science methods course for pre-service teachers. .

I wanted to go with a map/hike/journey analogy for the course, since I’m really into maps. So that’s where I started. I logged into my Gaia GPS account and pulled up a topographic map of one of my favorite nearby hiking areas. I created a route and marked a few waypoints, then exported the map as an image so I could edit it. SO in my mind I had this journey from Basecamp, through the Formative Assessment, Claims-Evidence-Reasoning, and Engaging all Learners waypoints along the hike. And overarching it all was this theme on Inquiry.

The course “Journey” as a hike on a topo map

After creating the map graphic and hike analogy (which is all I was going to do) I decided to make a comic strip. I Googled around for sites to help (of which there were many) but finally landed on one suggested by one of my 9 year old daughters- Pixton. My daughter helped me figure out how to make a comic strip, and even how to edit the characters’ attributes. I’m not sure if I could’ve persisted through the comic making phase of the project without her help. It’s not my forte.  So I created the lead-in comic for the syllabus, which totally sent me down the design rabbit hole.

The intro comic strip- my first ever comic!

The other big design element that I worked on (after a second fun comic strip about contacting me) was the course schedule. In my traditional syllabi, this is usually a table to dates, topics, reading, and assignments. Since all of that and the details are in the Canvas course, I thought it might be better to represent this information more broadly and generally, so I created a sort of Gantt chart. I color coded when things should be worked on and when assignments are due. It is my hope that students can use this as a visual for semester long planning, then get the details from the course in Canvas.

At this point I was ready to just get the necessary content into the syllabus. Course essential questions, grading policies, contact details,  etc. I chose to put these elements in text boxes throughout the document, in order to try to get away from the linear fashion of most syllabi.

Finally, I had fun inserting a few quotes, some science icons, and a fun “Science/Not Science” table. My goal here was to make the document something that students would want to read, not something they had to read.

Overall, I think it’s a good first take on a “reformed” graphic syllabus.  It certainly took a lot of time, but mostly because I don’t have a lot of design skill or experience. But it was fun. I am definitely planning on doing this for my other courses in the future. Now, I’m anxious to get some student feedback. Here’s a link to the final product. Thanks for reading.

The first page of the final product
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By Bud Talbot

I’m a science educator, teacher, and researcher. More specifically, I am an Associate Professor of science education at the University of Colorado Denver in the School of Education and Human Development. I currently teach pre-service and in-service science teachers, undergraduate peer Learning Assistants (LAs), and doctoral students. My research focuses on peer learning support in undergraduate science courses across the disciplines, and my particular interest is in physics education research (PER). Prior to entering academia, I taught science in grades 7-12 for seven years in US public schools, primarily physics in 11th and 12th grade.

Runner | tele skier | Father of twin girls | amateur radio operator W0RMT | science geek |