This fall, for the third time, I will be teaching a course on the History of Video Games. This is an upper level class offered to undergraduates across the university here at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Graduate students often enroll in the class simultaneously, so the class is offered at both the 300 and 500 level. The syllabus for this class, like the syllabus for many classes, has been getting a little long, and in its length, also a little unreadable. I’d been meaning to do some kind of redesign for a while, but the volume of required content for course policies is a bit onerous. But, then I saw Julie Platt’s beautifully designed, easy to read, Piktochart syllabus for her Technical Writing & Communication course. The one I’ve managed to make here is nowhere near as lightweight and elegant as hers, but it’s still a major, major improvement over the 9 pages of typed content I was using before.
Nine pages is a bit much. It’s hard for students to even deal with. Plus, there were other organizational issues. For various reasons, I kept deciding to put the lengthy course policies at the beginning of the syllabus. On the one hand, they’re important; on the other hand, many of them are not really course policies so much as they are standard university policies. They’re things I should talk about with students, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense for them to be front and center on my syllabus, but with a standard syllabus, they almost always are. Additionally, I was including a detailed course schedule that, as far as I can tell, nobody except me really paid attention to, but that I still felt locked into. Finally, I stopped printing the syllabus out for students several semester ago; after talking with students, the consensus was that electronic was preferable since at least it doesn’t get lost. That makes sense, but it also means there’s no real reason for me to keep designing my syllabus as if it is a printed document. It just isn’t.
In updating here, I moved the policies down, to the bottom. They’re easily locatable, but they aren’t displacing course-specific information. I also ditched the detailed schedule of the entire class in favor of a reading schedule and a bullet list of deadlines. Those organizational choices went a long way towards improving this document, but the visual elements really make it so much easier to read. In addition, I really thought about my tone here, and I added a few little jokes. Why? Because I make jokes in class, and there’s no real reason to cut my personality out of my teaching on paper if I’m not going to cut it out in the classroom (and, really, I probably shouldn’t).
I haven’t had time to rework my syllabus for all classes this semester, but I’m working towards redoing all of them by thinking more about the form that makes most sense in each case. This is a good, solid, widely usable form (thanks so much to Julie Platt for the inspiration), but I also look forward to investigating what other types of documents might work best in other situations. I think there’s still things I could improve here, but man, it’s so much better already.