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curriculum development, faculty development, higher education, integration, pedagogy, student learning

A Graphic Syllabus Can Bring Clarity to Course Structure

In the May 2, 2012 edition of Faculty Focus: Focused on Today’s Higher Education Professional:

A Graphic Syllabus Can Bring Clarity to Course Structure
By Maryellen Weimer, PhD in Teaching Professor Blog

In her blog post, Weimer discusses the value and surprisingly creative and student-centered approaches that use concept/mind maps to visually/graphically represent student understanding as well as to foster creative bridge-building relationships and develop new lines of conceptuality between ideas that have been presented by an instructor and new ideas presented by students.

She talks about her ideas (which include encouraging student to think about the overall structure of a course right from the start) as prompted by Linda Nilson’s work – advocating a “graphic syllabus” – described as a “flowchart, graphic organizer, or diagram of the schedule and organization of course topics, sometimes with tests, assignments, and major activities included”. She also sees great value in faculty having to go through the process of creating a graphic course organizer – demonstrating linkage between content areas in courses that are” inextricably linked”.

Three graphic syllabi from Mark Smillie at Carroll College (Helena, MT) provide an example. Villanova University describes this strategy ofincluding a “concept map” as part of the syllabus. They state, “There are a number of advantages to supplementing a traditional print syllabus with some graphic elements:

  • Adding a graphic can make clear to students the logic of the way the course is organized.
  • As we have pointed out elsewhere, our classes are filled with students who do not necessarily all have the same learning style as each other or the same style as their instructors.  Adding different modalities helps us reach out to different types of learners, and a graphic representation of the course can be especially helpful to visual learners.
  • Sometimes the effort of trying to show the logic of our course in a schematic way can help us, as instructors, rethink and reorganize our courses.

Check out a review of Linda Nilson’s book, The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course (Jossey-Bass, 2007) by Frances S. Johnson, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Writing Arts and Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, Rowan University, published in The National Teaching and Learning Forum.

Check Weimer’s post for references – this is a great idea and solid pedagogical tool.


About judithcoe

I am a retired music professor emerita, faculty development champion, SoTL practitioner mentor and trainer, technology geek, fulbright alum, cultural ambassador, digital explorer, artist, and observer with a passion for Irish land- and seascapes, music and literature, Blasket Island people and culture, and the sea.


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