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Converting to a More Visual Syllabus

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53506_pastedImage_31.pngHow many times have you said or written “It’s on the syllabus”? I’m tempted to dismiss those exchanges with a frustrated laugh. Those darned kids, right? But I’m a writer, so I can’t just ignore that implicit feedback from my readers. When students ask these questions, they are either letting me know that

  1. they didn’t read the syllabus.
  2. they can’t find information on the syllabus.

Those are both rhetorical problems. I’m not communicating with my audience. I never hear them say it, but I am pretty sure that when they see the wall of text that is my course website, they think, “tl;dr.” That’s “too long; didn’t read,” for those of you not up on textspeak.

In response, I am rethinking the site and adding more visual cues. I already had lots of headings, bulleted lists, and the like. That’s not enough. Students are still stumbling around, unable to find the information. I decided to try more of an infographic-style, with charts, framed pull-outs, and related images.

Here’s a before-and-after version of the page I have put the most time into so far. This is the design for the Assignments overview page from Spring semester:


This is the new design for the Assignments overview page for my Summer II section:


Kind of a big difference, huh? I am still struggling a bit with the design and layout. I am working with HTML and CSS to make the layout, so what might be a simple layout arrangement in Word or InDesign is a bit more challenging to pull off in a WordPress post. Beyond that, there’s the time requirement. I have spent at least a day reworking that page, tweaking things and trying different options. I think it’s worth it, but I am not sure I will have time to revise the entire site before classes start on July 7. I’m working on it though, and I’ll keep you posted on student response.

I would love to hear some feedback from you as well. Do you have suggestions for improving the site? What strategies do you try for making you syllabus and course information more reader-friendly? Share some ideas by leaving me a comment or dropping by my page on Facebook or Google+.

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Fantastic post, Traci Gardner​!  The infographic looks great to me; I can't wait to find out how your students respond.


No word so far, but it's only the beginning of the second day.

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Nicely explained, Traci, with a good example.  Great idea!   In case you're interested, here is one of my all-time favorite sites by history prof Tona Hangen with more ideas and examples:  Writing Syllabi Worth Reading | Tona Hangen


Thanks for sharing the link to Tona's syllabus. I remember seeing the US

History syllabus with Dorothea Lange when I was doing some research on

infographic syllabi. I agree. It's a great revision. I'm still working on

upgrading my resources. I keep telling myself to take baby steps. My

biggest concern is making sure it's accessible to all students. I need to

learn a good bit more about how screen readers handle such things, for

instance. Thanks again for sharing!

Traci Gardner

@tengrrl and @newsfromtengrrl


Bits Blog:

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Instructor at Va Tech:

On Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 8:34 PM, daneryl23 <>

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Here's the visual syllabus I use for my Social Media course at Fordham. A Model Media Ecologist: Social Media Syllabus

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Baby steps is the way to go!  I am starting a new position, and we have a template everyone follows, so I'm somewhat limited at the moment.  But a girl can dream, and I bet something like the cool infographic you created would fit right in now . . . I too hope to figure out the intricacies of design, little by little, as I go.

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This is simply awesome.  Already shared with a colleague!


Love your syllabus, Robert! I hope to move closer to this kind of complete syllabus soon. Thank you so much for sharing.


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Here is the visual syllabus I use to teach an Intro to Communication and Media Studies class at Fordham. A Model Media Ecologist: Intro to Communication and Media Studies Syllabus

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Thanks! I'm looking into incorporating the Digital Identity Mapping grid into my course.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.