April 12th, 2018

Syllabus Format May Enhance Understanding of Course Requirements

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a syllabus format that promotes learning

Over the years, course syllabi have evolved from a simple document that outlines course objectives and requirements to an intimidating, multi-paged contract of terms and conditions for successful course completion. A number of writers have proposed syllabus makeovers, including some who’ve suggested the syllabus be offered in newsletter style. Others have proposed quizzing students on the syllabus as a way to encourage them to read it carefully.

We decided to try these two ideas and investigate if they helped students understand four essential course requirements: course objectives, course policies, procedures for late work, and the number of exams. Each of us created one traditional course syllabus and one graphically enhanced syllabus in newsletter format, randomly distributing each type on the first day of class. We quizzed students on the course requirements on the second day of class. Both syllabi contained identical content.

The newsletter syllabi were designed using a newsletter template readily available in word processing programs. The essential elements of the syllabus were placed in boxes, enhanced with graphic elements, and written in different fonts. We tried for designs that highlighted important parts and were graphically pleasing to read.

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