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Building a visual syllabus

August 19, 2015

bill G cmst 137 syllabusA year ago on this blog you may have seen Turn your syllabus into an infographic. Purists will argue that calling something an “infographic” means it should present statistical data, so let’s call the visual linked to the image at right a poster-style syllabus. The imagery created by Bill Genereux at Kansas State is very appealing.

Paying attention to the way your syllabus looks is not just about making something pretty. The organization of your syllabus is clearer when you make good use of headings and white space. Well-placed images can emphasize key concepts or promote learning goals, and students may be more likely to read a visually compelling syllabus.

A graphic syllabus doesn’t have to take the form of a poster. In Extreme Makeover, Syllabus Edition, Tona Hangen of Worcester State explains how she created a visual syllabus in a more traditional size (below). Students still seem to like to print what we provide them digitally, so designing for letter-size paper may be the best choice.

tona hangen syllabus

This article is appearing too late for fall semester classes. However, there’s plenty of time to prepare for the spring and creating your first visual syllabus will take time. Rather than quickly whipping together something mediocre, stretch out the process and work through a few drafts.

barry bookDeveloping a syllabus along the models provided in cartoonist Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Syllabus & Homework would be a stretch for most of us. On the other hand, as I researched this article I was surprised at the lack of imagery in online syllabi I found for courses about digital media.

Additional resources

[tip o’ the hat to Kevin Barry for the Linda Barry link (no relation)]

UPDATE, 21 Aug. 2015

Additional thoughts from members of the POD Network and other colleagues:

Fountain” by Chris Clark (Flickr)
  1. Some students have visual impairments. Approximately 1 in 20 are color-blind.
  2. Using too many complex images can lead to cognitive overload.
  3. Use images with a Creative Commons license, especially if you post the syllabus online.
  4. Cite your images (example at right) or provide a short URL, like
  5. In her book, The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map, Linda Nilson (Clemson) shows how to communicate organization through a diagram, flowchart, or concept map.
7 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Clark permalink*
    August 20, 2015 10:19 am

    colej2015 — I last taught high school 33 years ago, but I’ll share some thoughts. 1) congratulations on putting this together. I’m sure it took a lot of time. 2) it’s very colorful — much more interesting than black and white text, and 3) it looks like you covered all of the bases.

    Some suggestions: 1) If the syllabus is aimed at students, then direct the language at them, too; for example, say “You will …” instead of “students will”. 2) Students are not interested in state standards; I would put learning goals right at the top and word them actively: “After taking this course, you will be able to …” 3) There’s a lot of text for an infoGRAPHIC. I would replace some of the verbiage with appropriate (not random) images that will appeal to high school kids.

  2. August 20, 2015 12:27 am

    Would you be willing to offer feedback on my first attempt? Thanks!

    I didn’t include that all graphics not from the website were free domain clipart, but I’ll add that at the bottom.

  3. Laurie McGowan permalink
    August 19, 2015 5:00 pm

    These syllabi examples are lovely indeed — but some do not give image attribution. :’-(


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