Turn your syllabus into an infographic
Erin McLaughlin teaches “Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric” at Notre Dame — some readers may remember an earlier article about Doctor E’s audio narrative. Erin is usually at the head of the pack when it comes to effectively integrating technology and this fall she has done it again, producing a beautiful infographic of her course syllabus (excerpt at right).
While I don’t suggest everyone should drop the idea of a traditional syllabus, nearly any course can benefit from a simplified visual overview that quickly gives students a sense of what will happen during the semester. If necessary, you can follow up with a more detailed document or a set of web pages.
The challenge of visually summarizing a course syllabus can be a very meaningful endeavor. Dr. McLaughlin shared these comments with me:
I figured the infographic approach would be a good opportunity to examine the syllabus as a piece of multimedia rhetoric in and of itself, and the exercise of graphically presenting the content was a valuable reminder of challenges and opportunities students may run into when engaging in similar intellectual tasks.
It’s too late to create an infographic syllabus for the fall semester, but that’s just as well. This is not a quick-and-dirty project. You’ll need to spend time thinking about which key aspects of the course you want to highlight – and how to do that visually. See the examples at the end for ideas. In the meantime, here are some types of content you may choose to include:
- Learning goals – don’t forget these!
- Big questions the course will address
- Major assignments
- Course organization – key dates, topics,
- Required materials – books, technology, etc.
- Grading – visualize how much major components are worth
As you begin to work up the content for your infographic, remember the audience. Your students don’t know the material yet, so be careful when making assumptions. Also, keep the amount of text to a minimum. I know that’s hard for academics, but we’re talking about infoGRAPHICs here … Finally –and this is most challenging bit– try to follow a visual metaphor or create a story line.
You may have seen a visually enhanced syllabus before, but the infographic genre implies certain restrictions. Ideally, it presents visual information in a way that quickly and clearly makes a point.
- Start with a pencil-and-paper drawing. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it will save you time in the long run.
- Limit your color palette to as few as three colors. You can get ideas from Adobe Kuler.
- Keep the overall design simple, not cluttered. Empty space helps make the elements you include stand out.
- Use simple graphics, like vector images and line drawings.
- Limit the size – under 735 x 3600 pixels.
- Use readable fonts – big enough and not too fancy.
In terms of technology, Erin used Piktochart, a web-based tool that offers free basic memberships to educators. The software will even let you incorporate a video if you want! Venngage, a similar tool, offers very reasonable educational pricing on 35 premium accounts for one month. Premium accounts on both sites provide things like more templates, no branding, and high resolution downloads.
For more information on infographics, try these earlier articles: Infographics – tools and student projects and Infographics in the classroom. For related ideas, see Creative Approaches to the Syllabus (ProfHacker).
Sample Infographic Syllabi
See what you think. Some are really posters; they have way too much text to be called infographics. However, each one illustrates good ideas.
- WRIT 1301 “University Writing,” (Minnesota, Fall ’13)
- Senior Marketing Internship (Champlain College, Fall ’11)
- Art 003 “Visual Images on the Web” (Penn State, 2013)
- ENGL 350 “Literature of Alaska” (UA Fairbanks, Fall ’13)
- ENC 1102 “Composition 2” (Valencia College, 2014)
- Article with an example – Would a Course Syllabus Be Better as an Infographic? (Curtis Newbold, Spring ’14)
Please use the comments to submit other examples of infographic syllabi, as well as suggestions for content or design.