Graphic Syll Design 2.1


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Think of your syllabus as a road map to the course. A graphic syllabus with an outcomes map gives your students a reason to read it and a way to remember it. This workshop will show you what is essential in a syllabus, how to clarify and focus your learning goals, and how to communicate them effectively to your students throughout your course.

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  • Students have questions coming in to a course. . .
  • A good syllabus answers those questions and more. There are two main components to a course and a syllabus: the organization and schedule of topics for the course, and the learning objectives or outcomes to the course.
  • Some experts say that a learner-centered syllabus should contain no less than 44 items—and that’s just the beginning. . .
  • Even though the syllabus is an important part of a course, and even though most teachers review it thoroughly at the beginning of a course, students don’t seem to refer to the syllabus throughout the semester. In fact, most treat it just as a schedule—which is the way many of us think of it too. So we can’t blame the students for not looking at if it we don’t make it worth their while to do so. Why don’t they read it? Maybe there’s just not enough incentive to get through it all.
  • Most syllabi are text-heavy and their design doesn’t stand out. They aren’t visually memorable either.
  • Many students respond quickly to visual cues. They’re reluctant to read things that don’t seem to matter that much. They don’t favor reading and don’t do all that well at it. For example. . .
  • The average reading speed for many college students is 250 words per minute. That’s one double-spaced typed page.
  • And for scientific or technical texts, it’s even less. . . 100 words a minute. That’s for upper-division students. First-year students find it even more difficult and read even slower.
  • So we have a dilemma: a need to provide a lot of information . . . and students who don’t have time to read it. This is where the graphic syllabus can help.
  • Students need a discipline-related structure to help them organize the course content.
  • The graphic syllabus is a flowchart of the organization and schedule of topics. The outcomes map is a flowchart of the progression of learning throughout the course.
  • We remember material received in both visual and verbal channels better and longer than material remembered in only one form, and it can be accessed and retrieved more easily by two paths than one [Nilson, Linda B. (2007),19].
  • The graphic syllabus combines the detail and organization of a text-based syllabus with the Gestalt (seeing the whole at once) of good visuals.
  • We can imagine four elements to teaching: course design, rubric design, assessment design, and syllabus design.
  • But syllabus design is key to the other three. That’s where everything comes together for the students. The syllabus can become the portable presence of the class.
  • One partial solution is to use graphic elements throughout the syllabus . . .
  • Graphics are more efficient than text alone because they require less working memory and fewer cognitive transformations than text. Text comes to us hierarchically, one piece at a time; we interpret and reassemble it. A graphic communicates holistically and completely—all at once.
  • Graphics communicate information on two levels at once: through their individual elements and through the spatial arrangement of those elements,” a process called “perceptual enhancement.” Nilson, 2007, 19.
  • The mind has two memory systems. The semantic corresponds to the verbal and textual and the episodic relates to the graphic and visual-spatial. We store information in both systems.
  • So the information in a graphic syllabus may be retained better and longer and the memory of it may be retrieved more easily. A standard text syllabus uses only the semantic memory but a graphic syllabus with an outcomes map ensures students will use their episodic memory as well.
  • What do graphic syllabi and outcomes maps look like? How can they be used to communicate with your students more effectively? Let’s look at some examples.
  • Here is a simple outcomes map, read from bottom to top. It shows students what they’ll be learning and how each level of learning builds on the previous one.
  • This one is more detailed but still quite easy to read and understand. The titles across the top show the progression of the objectives.
  • Here’s a rather traditional course schedule, organized in columns. It’s the kind of thing that must be referred to throughout the course, perhaps even on a daily basis. A lot of students might not do that. They’ll ask you what’s due or talk to a classmate.
  • Here’s a graphic version of the same thing. This doesn’t have dates attached to the topics but what it does is to give the student a visual overview of the course. It communicates the organization and the logical flow of the course. The student can use this together with an assignments schedule.
  • Here’s another example of a graphic syllabus. This one has the advantage of a timeline for the topics and it even includes the placement of the exams. It shows the relation of the topics to each other and illustrates the relation of the two major elements in the course, deterministic modeling and probabilistic modeling. Even those of us unfamiliar with this can follow the diagram.
  • This is one of my favorites. You can grasp it all at once. It’s easy to understand the organization in stages. It includes the timeline, what will be covered in each class, and the placement of the exams. And from the illustration we can see that each stage prepares us for the next.
  • Those are some good examples taken from Linda Nilson’s book. I encourage you to be creative as you build your own graphic syllabus.
  • Revised 6/29/10
  • Graphic Syll Design 2.1

    1. 1. Text You know you want some. . . Now’s your chance!
    2. 2. THE SYLLABUS as a Learning Device Graphic
    3. 3. Who’s the teacher? How hard is he/she? Is there a paper? Will I pass?
    4. 4. Two components Schedule of topics Learning objectives/outcomes
    5. 5. 44 basic items . . . Syllabus checklist . . . .
    6. 6. Why don’t they read?
    7. 7. Too much text?
    8. 8. Average reading speed for college students. . .
    9. 9. 250 words a minute. . . One typed page 250 words per minute one typed page. . .
    10. 10. 100 words per minute scientific text . . .
    11. 11. Is there another way?
    12. 12. Structure connects the known with the unknown
    13. 13. Graphic syllabus Outcomes map organization and schedule learning
    14. 14. We learn better from words and pictures together than from words or pictures alone.
    15. 15. Detail and organization Gestalt +
    16. 16. The best of both worlds
    17. 17. Syllabus Design Course Design Rubric Design Assessment Design A Taxonomy of Teaching Design
    18. 18. Syllabus Design A Taxonomy of Teaching Design Course Design Rubric Design Assessment Design
    19. 19. Graphic elements break up blocks of text. . . .
    20. 23. Graphic Elements Efficient Memorable
    21. 24. Perceptual Enhancement individual elements spatial arrangement
    22. 25. Two memory systems: episodic visual-spatial semantic verbal
    23. 26. Retained better and longer Retrieved more easily Graphic syllabus
    24. 27. We see the whole picture at once. . .
    25. 28. Graphic syllabus Outcomes map
    26. 35. Now it’s up to you!
    27. 36. O’Brien, Judith Grunert, Millis, Barbara, and Cohen, Margaret W. (2008). The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach, 2 nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Nilson, Linda (2007). The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. References Music “ Uprising,” Muse.
    28. 37. Entelechy Productions (2010)