In working to set up my fall online class, I eventually made it to the point where I needed to get serious about getting the schedule organized. Now, a typical syllabus would normally have a table that includes the date, topic, readings, and whatever might be due. It’s perfectly reasonable, and I’m not suggesting not to do it. It keeps both you and your students organized, and it sets boundaries and expectations for the course.
However, as I began to construct my table I found that I had some ideas that didn’t fit neatly into the standard boxes. For example, during the first two weeks of the class I want my students to locate and play a video game. This could fall under assignments, but that seemed to not capture the spirit of what I was asking. I wanted them to play. I wanted them to enjoy what they were doing. And, to me, the act of playing is much different than the act of completing an assignment.
So I stepped back and thought about what I wanted students doing throughout the semester, and I decided to represent my answer on the course calendar as primarily a series of verbs – the things they will do. I still have basic organizational structures on the calendar as you can see here (click on the picture to make it bigger).
From this, you can see I still have commonly listed things (date, week, and topic). I still have assignments and readings but now I have grouped things as verbs – read, watch, do, and play. Grouping experiences as verbs came to me when I realized I didn’t want to assign students to play a video game – I simply wanted them to play a game. Additionally, we’ll be having weekly challenges and I want them to see those as something they play.
The read category is exactly what you think it is. It’s a list of readings. The watch category allows me to set aside videos and group them all in one place under a common heading. The do category could be assignments, but I see it as a to-do list for the most part.
The nice thing about breaking it up like this, I think, is that while there is a list of things I want students to do it doesn’t end up getting presented to them in a single long list for each week. For example, in Week 1 there are nine things students need to engage in. However, split up across four columns it looks manageable (which it is). Seeing a list of nine bullet points would be a lot more overwhelming I think.
Now, I always provide students with an overview for the week. I will do it in both written and video formats. That is intended to give them background knowledge on what we are doing and also help them think about how to approach the material. For example, in Week One I tell them I think it’s best to watch the videos in the order I have listed them in and I go on to explain why. However, they can do what they choose. They can engage with the Read/Watch/Do/Play in any way they want (technically). I tell them what I think is a good approach but ultimately they take it from there.
Finally, I like the use of verbs as column headings because students can decide what they are in the mood for. Want to watch a video? You know how to easily locate one. Need to do a challenge? Find it in the Play column. Students don’t have to sift through a list and guess if something is a reading or a video or whatever. It’s clear.
In the end, I think this is just a very simply structural change to my syllabus that I believe makes it a lot more organized. In an online class, I think this is key. In a F2F class I probably would not have thought to do this. Most videos I have students watch are short (15 minutes or less) and could be watched during a three hour in person session. Any video I would have shown during a F2F class I would have embedded in my weekly overview write up.
Which brings me to my final point – you structure class the way you need to structure class. And you structure your syllabus the way you need to structure your syllabus. And context can change that. Be open. Play with it.