Story: Graphic Syllabus

We all know most students don’t read the syllabus – at least not as carefully as we would like.   Truly, one of my colleagues once proposed a new Twitter hashtag #RTFS - Read The &*$# Syllabus.  She daydreamed about simply inserting the hashtag when responding to student emails inquiring about a course policy that had been extensively described in her syllabus.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t follow through on that, but we’ve all probably felt the urge to respond in a similar manner from time to time.

I’m in Biology, but this got me to thinking about taking a page from the Advertising world.  What makes print content easily readable?  What would entice students to glance at the syllabus for more than a few seconds?   To engage them just a bit more? Maybe big graphics, avoiding large blocks of text, a high level of personalization, bullet lists, and a little humor? Which brought me to another thought:  the syllabus is one of the first things students see, so a highly engaging, “friendly” document could also help set a positive tone at the beginning of the course.   Two birds…as they say.

I searched around the Internet and found a few examples, and then went about customizing and personalizing my own. I used the Apple Pages program, which comes with a Syllabus Template like the example I’ve provided.  I’m sure with a little work, a similar template can be found or created using Word or similar.  I made the change to my syllabus about five or so years ago, and I’ve been pretty happy with the results.  It’s actually kind of fun to put together.  Of course, I still get the perennial question about course policies in emails, but it is relatively rare.    Good luck with yours and I’m happy to share my .pages file if anyone would find that helpful to use as a template.

Headshot of Jen Moon, Biology

Jen Moon, Biology

DNA Molecule for Genetics Course

Bio 315H Graphic Syllabus

To prepare you for upper division courses, BIO 315H will begin your journey with a survey of introductory concepts in Molecular and Cell Biology, served with a healthy dash of Genetics... inheritance mechanisms on populations and beyond!

A sign depicts a person followed by an arrow pointing at a door, visually communicating the message that the person should go through the door.

Visually Creative Syllabi

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Jason Jones provides a sampling of graphic syllabi from different institutions.