Creative Syllabuses

MissalA couple of weeks ago, I asked for examples of creative or interesting syllabuses that readers wanted to share. “Creative or interesting” is a pretty broad remit: while some of these syllabuses are unlike anything students are used to, others take more conventional forms and tweak them in stylish, intelligent ways. This is turning into an annual thing: here are last year’s results. My own syllabuses are, um, still coming together, so I have nothing to show off, plus I’m not sure “coming up with inventive designs” is quite at the top of my skill set.

Fortunately, however, the ProfHacker readership has ideas aplenty. Here are some of this year’s submissions:

  • Adrianne Wadewitz’s syllabus for Media Revolutions slickly juxtaposes 18thC and 21stC media to provoke questions about the role of media and the news. And frankly you have to admire any course that has reason to include a rhyming dictionary in its list of recommended resources! (Bonus: the SoundCloud clip of Wadewitz discussing versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story.)
  • Dylan Kissane’s course on international politics is populated by students majoring in business, so his syllabus needs to be clear and inviting to folks who might prefer to be taking a course in their major. An interesting feature here is the presence of student commentary–including critical commentary–from evaluations.
  • Lee Skallerup Bessette needed to solve a tricky problem: what should a syllabus for a peer-driven, collectively-generated course look like? (The more I’ve thought about this, the harder it seems: an overly-stylized design could end up quashing the students’ own contributions.)
  • Angela Jenks has adopted a newsletter-style format for her 100-level Anthropology course, Human Ways of Life. The format helps draw attention to points that students frequently ask about–or that they don’t ask about, but need to know. A nice inclusion is the clear presentation of the last day to add, to drop, and to withdraw.
  • Similarly, Bruce Clary uses the newsletter format to give students some visual interest and thoughtful quotations on the first day of class, and to keep the syllabus as a document of interest beyond the first day. On offer here are courses in the Civil War in literature and film, and a general survey of fiction.
  • Julia Metzker has ported a version of her Principles of Chemistry Lab for Chemistry Majors course to Prezi, and it’s well done. It’s interesting to compare the PDF version of the syllabus, and to think about when the different versions might be more useful.
  • Kevin Gannon designed a Modern Latin America history syllabus to be printed & stapled as a booklet, with all the opportunities for rhetorical layout choices that that provides. I enjoy thinking about the “How We’ll Study It” and “Expectations” sections facing one another, reminding students of their role in making the class work.
  • In part because recursivity rules everything around me–and if not recursivity, then certainly papercraft, my favorite syllabus this fall is Sarah Werner’s syllabus for Books and Early Modern Culture. While the syllabus comes in a full-length version, she’s also developed a fold-your-own quarto format version of the syllabus that will get students thinking about the physical properties of texts, even as they prepare to study the same. And because Sarah’s the undisputed JV champion of folding exercises, she even made up a Word template for anyone who wants to make their own quarto syllabus.

One of the things I’m struck by is how the various professors integrate university-mandated (or recommended) material into their syllabuses.

If you’ve got a creative or interesting syllabus, and it’s online, why not leave a link in comments? (You can also e-mail me a copy and I’ll post it.)

Photo “Missal, f.22v-23r, (272 x 182 mm), 15th century, Alexander Turnbull Library, MSR-18″ by Flickr user National Library NZ on the Commons / No known copyright restrictions

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