I’m spending time this summer revising some course documents and creating some new resources. Right now, I’m trying to make my syllabus more engaging. Some aspects of the syllabus are easy to convert, like shifting to a pie chart to show the grade distribution as I demonstrated in that previous post, Converting to a More Visual Syllabus.
Other portions of the syllabus offer particular challenges. There are certain policies and details that have to be included, like details on the honor code and our departmental assessment. These policies feel a lot like the Terms of Service agreements: no one reads the details; we all just scroll to the end and click the Agree button.
My goal this summer is to increase the readability of my course documents so that students resist the urge to invoke the TL;DR response (“too long; didn’t read”). To get there, I want to break up the information, add more color and negative space (e.g., white space), and revise the test to use a friendlier tone.
I will share several of these revised sections with you this summer. To get started, I’m working on the required resources section of the syllabus, the place where I list the books and websites that students will need for the course. Here’s the old version of the section on the resources as it appeared in the Spring 2016 syllabus:
It’s a customary arrangement, but not very interesting. The bulleted list makes the different resources obvious, but they still appear as a giant block of words.
To improve the section, I broke the information into two lists, one of free, online resources, and the other of things they need to buy (or have). I added some icons to highlight those two sections. Now that the textbook is in the second edition, I want to be sure students get the right version, so I included an image of its cover. To balance the other section, I added the cover of a free guide from our campus career center. I also added line breaks to make the list more open. Here’s how I’ve revised the section so far:
Resources to Bookmark
|Resources to Buy, Borrow, or Find|
That’s what I have so far. What do you think? Is the new version easier for you to read and use? How do you think students will respond? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. I’d love suggestions as I work to revise other portions of my course documents.
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