Last fall we had a natural disaster that shut down our school for almost the entire month of September. I did not step foot on campus for the entire month, since for part of it I was in England for DaCNet and research. Once the immediate danger of Hurricane Florence was past us, the real waiting began for flood waters that creeped up and up into our town and over our roads for weeks after. Obviously, this was totally nerve-wracking, and I was unable to focus on any heavy research or writing, because I was constantly refreshing the NOAA flood table charts.
I decided to do something a bit more fun, relaxing (to me), and creative instead: I turned my Spring semester syllabi into info graphs. I had wanted to do this for a while and wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it, so I headed to the Google. I found this article, and this, which gave some overall tips and ideas. I am most familiar with the website Canva, so that is what I decided to use for this project. I started with a completely blank page on Canva, and just added the elements as I needed them.
Canva is great for making posters to advertise your classes online or in print, social media images to advertise conferences or workshops, syllabi, documents, resumes, whatever you want to design. It is also incredibly use friendly with drag and drop functions. You can download as PDFs, JPGs, PNGs, and more. I plan to use the syllabi I have already made in the future, and copy them to make a new document, to update and change information easily. To get started, open canva in your browser and create an account.
Now, I know the syllabus is the contract the drives the semester and needs to have all the pertinent information for a successful semester. We want to get every rule, regulation, policy, and code in there to avoid any issues we have had in the past. This leads to syllabus creep, and eventually a 14 page document of blocks and blocks of texts that I don’t want to revise every semester, and students certainly don’t want to read each semester. Paring things down was hard, but I managed to go from 6 pages of text, to 3 pages of syllabus, with a supplemental calendar on another page, and for my upper division class, a packet of readings information. I also make extensive use of our online platform, Moodle, which made paring the syllabus down a lot easier, too. In the digital version of the syllabus, you can also embed links, so students can easily access the full text of an attendance policy or find information about counseling or health services, or the writing and tutoring centers (also linked on Moodle).
Ok, so how did I actually do this? Basically I opened Canva, opened a new document, and just started dragging elements around to where I needed them. I knew I had to have the course description and SLOs per university rules, and I wanted my contact information to be easily accessible for students to find. Once I had those in place, I focused on what else I thought would be the most important: how they earn their grades, course requirements, and rules/policies (condensed and pared down). I think my favorite part is the academic misconduct section, with the little skull and cross bones. Canva also has charts you can insert that will do percentages and labels, for grading or other charts you want to include.
Within canva I was also able to create an “icon” of sorts for each class, based on the themes in that class. For the museums class, I used a museum emoji with a bunch of people, for Museums and Communities. For Great Debates in Public History, I chose icons that represented our topics: a mummy, historic buildings, and a park ranger. The icons are on each page of the syllabus along with the course name, and one cool thing about these graphics is I was able to take the icons I made for each class and use on other platforms, like our Slack page, or for different sections of moodle for a “branding” technique. This way the class was always recognizable, even across the different websites we use.
Canva has a lot of icons to choose from in the free version, like the skull and crossbones and the museum; however, you can also upload any icons or images you have downloaded on your own device to use within the program. All of the circles, starbursts, boxes, and so on are available in the sidebar of the program.
I taught this style of syllabus design recently at a CeTeal professional development workshop on my campus, and some of the instructors there have really run with it! One of the theater professors is planning to make hers as a Playbill, for instance, and a literature syllabus could be designed as an old book. A geography or map class could be done in a series of maps… the possibilities are endless, really. Maybe in the future I will redesign my museum one to look like an exhibit in a room! The most important thing is to be creative and have fun.
I did not do any kind of official assessment on use of the syllabus this past semester, but it did seem that students asked less questions that were answered on the syllabus. I’m sticking with it, and will post my fall syllabi at the end of summer!