Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Review: The Syllabus Institute




Reviewed by:  Linda B. Nilson, Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University, USA

This free, newly-launched online resource offers sound advice on syllabus design and content, especially for the online syllabus.  It addresses topics such as the information that belongs in a syllabus, legal issues surrounding syllabus transparency, syllabus compliance with Universal Design principles and practices, syllabus templates and in-house systems developed by various universities, and model faculty training programs in online syllabus design.  A syllabus self-assessment instrument is available.  The site developers say that their best-practice recommendations are based on their research on over 2,500 syllabi from more than 500 institutions.  Your feedback about the content, design, and additional materials for the site is explicitly invited, and you can even be a guest blogger.  
This site was recently announced on the POD listserv and caused a bit of a stir.  The Syllabus Institute claims to be built on the controversial belief that excellence starts with the syllabus.  Educational developers could more effectively argue that course excellence starts with a firm commitment to student learning, clear and assessable student learning outcomes, cohesive course design, or consonance between outcomes and methods; the syllabus just maps out the plan to help students achieve the outcomes.  One POD member objected to the site’s focus on the syllabus as a contract, an assessment instrument, and a way to draw students into the subject matter, versus the syllabus as a learning tool.  These are fair critiques, but they do not make the resources on the site any less useful to relatively new faculty and graduate student instructors who are struggling to compose a high-quality, legally-sound syllabus.
Educational developers and instructional technologists, such as learning management system specialists, should find this site useful in developing or refining their faculty and graduate student training programs in syllabus design, as well as in providing individual consultation on the topic.  If the site continues to develop, it should serve as a good resource to keep up with evolving syllabus issues.  Of course, faculty can mine this site on their own for good ideas and models, especially with respect to Universal Design and accessibility.

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