Shape Up Your Syllabus!

The beginning of fall semester is a constant battle to redefine the balance among school, work, family, and personal time. It can be overwhelming, but there is a simple step you can take to help lighten that load. Update your First Day Handout!

Syllabus …Thrilled? You should be! The most effective syllabi are integral resources and communication documents for students and instructors alike. Revising your first day handout will help keep you organized for each class session and ward away repetitive questions about assignment due dates and absence policies. Here we offer some helpful resources to make updating your first day handout more efficient.

Before You Begin: Helpful Resources

  • First Day Handout Template: We developed templates for first day handouts (online and on-ground) and weekly course outlines after extensive research in course syllabus standards through esteemed higher education associations such as Quality Matters and the Online Learning Consortium. They are designed to be easily navigable and effectively communicate course content in order to support student success.
  • Seven Principles for Building Your First Day Handout:  For those who missed our previous blog post on the subject, here are more tips on crafting an effective syllabus.
  • Your Department’s Full-Time Faculty: It’s very important to communicate with your department faculty or associate dean during this process, as each subject area in the college has slightly different syllabus requirements.

Moving Forward: Five Focus Areas

1)      Expectations: Along with the course outline and college procedures, your syllabus should also communicate your professional policies. Each instructor has a different method of grading attendance and absences, and no two late assignment policies are the same. Clearly expressing your expectations of class behavior prevents confusion when/if situation arise.

2)      Tone: While it is important to remain professional, do not be afraid to show your enthusiasm for the upcoming course. Let your students know that this is not only a field in which you have expertise, but also a subject for which you have passion. Examine the language you use as well. Simple changes, like favoring the second person point of view (“you”) over the third person (“students”) can promote a more inclusive learning environment.

3)      Activity: Consider creating an activity, assignment, or assessment to ensure your students understand the most important parts of your syllabus. This can be infused with an in-class “Getting to Know You” exercise (see Karen Eifler’s Syllabus Speed Dating) or a couple insightful discussion board questions for online courses. After all, you’ve dedicated time to crafting your syllabus; you want to know your students have made an effort to comprehend it!

4)      Design: Now let’s take a break from the content and just look at the syllabus. Flip through the pages and let your eyes wander. Is there too much text with very little white space? Does the page appear “busy”, splattered with different colors and images and fonts? It might be time to revamp the format. Break up the large blocks of information with relevant graphics, or simple line breaks. Remember, you don’t want to distract from the content, you want to enhance it. Search online for different examples if you’re looking for ideas (trust me, there are a lot.)

5)      Accuracy: Imagine you’re a new student and read the first day handout. No, really, read it. Go over every sentence, click on every hyperlink, and do the math for the assignment point distribution. Chances are you will come across a typo, an outdated webpage, or a miscalculation. Since Macomb Community College updated its website this year, the hyperlinks and directions for logging on to ANGEL are especially important to check. Take a step back and breathe. Critique your work, then ask a colleague or department assistant to review the document for clarity, grammar, and punctuation. All that’s left to do now is e-mail the final copy to your department and publish it in your ANGEL Course Shells for the upcoming semester.

What does your first day handout have that we missed? Do you use a syllabus-building resource that we neglected to mention? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet @MCCInstructTech

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