Difficult and oftentimes tedious to create, linear in content and layout, something students review with the instructor on the first day of class…as they struggle to stifle bored yawns, and then toss or lose. According to Liesel Knaack (I will leave you alone in future posts I promise!) course outlines or syllabus do not have to be boring!
When I started at Vancouver Island University (VIU) I poured hours into creating my first course syllabi. With four courses to teach, I went at the task as if my life depended on it, and in a way it did. I was stressed and nervous. Was I doing it right? What should be in my syllabi? For that matter, what should be left out? I was anxious! In academia while your colleagues may share their course outlines, or leave them behind in a file folder, as was my case, it is tough to apply what someone else has generated. In fact, some of my esteemed colleagues might argue, even wrong.
Consequently, I have spent the last several years making notes throughout my teaching term, on what didn’t work in my syllabi, and waiting with uneasy anticipation for August to roll around again so I could “this year” make my course syllabus work—for both my students, and me. Sadly, to continue to produce a similar product…sigh.
This past year though I was fortunate to join a teaching and learning class where together we chewed on our pencils and worked on getting out of our own ways; letting go of old ideas about how the syllabus “should” be constructed. My colleague and I (we are working within a team-teaching model) managed to create a less than traditional, however, well received course syllabus—halleluiah!
Building on the past year feedback from both students and our employers, we designed with none of the strain and concern of past years, a colourful six (6) page, with a few carefully chosen images, course outline we are proud of. When students received it the first day, we could actually hear them commenting on it, “The images are cool” “I am looking forward to this course” “There is a list of course topics being covered, and a calendar!” Students, were diving in with interest, and easily finding their way through the syllabus to see what the learning outcomes for our course were. They understood immediately how they would be assessed and how they would ultimately be evaluated in our courses. We were engaged in a conversation about the course. Success, I think so.
Will we (my cohort and I) fine-tune our course syllabus in our next teaching terms? Certainly, we will, because we will have new feedback to consider and include, but are we inspired with this years course outline—definitely.
“If you improve a teacher’s self-esteem, confidence, communication skills or stress levels, you improve that teacher’s overall effectiveness across the curriculum.” Elaine MacDonald