Designing Online and Print Syllabi

When we were students, we can probably remember receiving only paper syllabi. Perhaps as instructors, we may have only ever received training in creating syllabi designed for print. But many of our students are accustomed to receiving course materials in both print and digital forms, giving them options about how they want to access, archive, and engage with their course documents. Indeed, giving students flexible choices about HOW to engage with their syllabi and assignment sheets is a principle of accessible learning. With Canvas as our course learning management system, instructors have access tools that make it easy to design and distribute digital materials. Some instructors actually wind up making their syllabi interactive, particularly when they create the syllabus in Canvas, which allows instructors to create links that students can click on to access the details of particular activities or assignments.

This page offers several examples of syllabi by PWR instructors that move effectively between the printed and digital spaces. If you have questions about designing your syllabus or assignment sheets to be accessible in both print and digital spaces, consult with the Academic Technology Specialist.

Examples of Exemplary Syllabi that Move Across Print and Digital Spaces

Angela Becerra Vidergar, PWR 1: "From Broadcasts to Podcasts, The Rhetoric of Radio."

Angela's online syllabus is accessible in the Modules feature of Canvas. It allows students access to links, resources, and instructions for each week and day's activity. What works well about having a syllabus built out in "Modules" is that it allows students to interact with each other part of the syllabus; students can click on individual sections to see what kinds of activities, readings, or resources they will use for each portion of the lesson. If you would like to experience cliking through the Modules to see what it feels like as a user, contact the Academic Technology Specialist, who can give you a tour of a Canvas site set-up with modules like Angela's (For FERPA-related reasons, we cannot let instructors access full Canvas sites, as active Canvas sites contain private student information).

In Angela's print syllabus, Angela also does a great job of considering accessibility by visually chunking important pieces of information. Each section is divided by a clear header; the font sizes for headers and paragraph text are different and the paragraphs are short enough to be quickly scannable for relevant information. Appropriate hyperlinks are also directly embedded so that students accessing the print document online can directly access resources that link to the course's digital content. Download Angela's full syllabus (accessible only to Stanford users).

The page of Angela Becerra Vidergar's syllabus with text headers differentiated by size and color.

Lisa Swan, PWR 1: Unequal by Design?: The Rhetoric of Race, Class, and Education

Lisa's online syllabus is accessible from her home page, which she designed using the "Pages" tool in Canvas. The "Pages" tool in Canvas allows instructors to create web pages using either a rich text editor or an HTML back-end (or some combination of both!). In other words, "Pages" are something of a "blank slate" for instructors to use to build their own designs if they want information organized in a particular way in the learning management system. What makes Lisa's design exemplary is the fact that she offers students multiple, but clear, navigational pathways for accessing the course calendar, the daily activities, the assignment sheets, the syllabus, and other course resources.The hyperlinks embedded on the page take students clearly to the documents they will need to use throughout the quarter.

The "interactive course schedule" pages allow students to interact with the syllabus and access needed documents and assignments both in and outside of class. By creating tables in the "Pages" tool of Canvas," Lisa embeds the essential resources for each day's class so that students can follow along with her slidedecks, her resources, and the upcoming homework assignments and activities.

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Lisa's print syllabus uses color, spacing, and text blocks to help students navigate the document easily and distinguish between key pieces of information. On this page in particular (see image below), Lisa's diagram of the weekly units shows students what to expect in terms of how the major assignments will map on to the schedule for the rest of the quarter. The side bar with information about the Hume Center also helps students understand a resource that they may use while working on the three major assignments for the quarter. The rest of Lisa's print syllabus makes similar moves as this page. 

 

Shay Brawn, PWR 1: The Rhetoric of Robots, Cyborgs, Mutants and Other Posthumans

Shay's online syllabus is accessible on her site's home page, and it serves as a digital version of her print syllabus. The design moves of the online and print syllabus are the same, but giving students the option to access the course content in two different places gives students flexibility in their engagement with the course assignments and activities. Shay built her online syllabus using the "Syllabus" tool in Canvas, copying the text of her print syllabus, and moving it into a digital table in the rich text editor available in the Syllabus tool. By directly embedding hyperlinks and using a table to distinguish between each day's activities, Shay makes it clear which resources will be available for use on particular class days.

Shay's print syllabus similarly offers students a clear expectation of what to expect from each class session by clearly color-blocking the content and using a table to distinguish between the different days, activities, and major assignments. Download a copy of Shay's syllabus to see more (Stanford users only).

Non-Canvas Versions of Digital Syllabi

Christine Alfano, PWR 1: "The Rhetoric of Gaming"

Christine built her course syllabus (and other course activities) in a free WordPress site to allow her students an alternative portal to navigate course material. Note that Christine puts a link from her Canvas site to her WordPress site. What works well about Christine's WordPress site is that it offers quick links to important details - "Weekly Schedule, " "Assignments," etc. - while also giving room for students to shape and contribute to the space as "Bloggers" in the "Blogging" section. Buttons with quick links to a meeting sign-up widget and the class's Box account also work well to orient students to important class resources. For access to the full WordPress site, please contact Jenae Cohn.

Trisha Stan, PWR 1: "The Rhetoric of the Experiment"

Trisha built her course syllabus in a free WordPress site and hosts all of her course content there. Her syllabus is organized into graphical sections for "Course Overview," "Class Policies," "Major Assignments," etc. What works well about Trisha's WordPress site is that it uses strong visuals to guide the student to the most important pieces of information they need to understand the major class policies and expectations. While students do not interact much in the course website, the heavy use of images - balanced with alternatives to access the text versions of the syllabus in a Google Doc - are great solutions for meeting different learning styles and creating accessible content. To see Trisha's full WordPress site, please contact Jenae Cohn.