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+.

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.