On February 12th, I logged in to my wikispaces account only to learn the site would soon be shutting down. Wikispaces started in 2005. I think I started using it sometime around 2007/2008 to create course syllabi. I liked it because it allowed me to create a more dynamic, interactive syllabus:
Related: Setting Up the Syllabus
Everything was just so nice, neat, and all together in the same place. On a practical note, students can’t lose the document because it’s not a paper copy. I can link them to anything and everything they might need. We can add material or move it around as necessary.
It was a great platform for my teaching.
But it’s going away. Which means now I have to rethink how I am going to have a syllabus that is just as good, but hopefully even better, and what I will be using to achieve that.
Don’t Even Suggest My LMS
If you’ve been with me for five minutes you know I am not a fan of the LMS. In my current position, we use Canvas, and yes, there is a place in Canvas to put the syllabus. I have been linking out to wikispaces (naturally).
Canvas, obviously, is not going to come close to performing like wikispaces does for my syllabus. I’m more than open to linking out.
It may be that I have to create a basic web page for my class, or even just create a webpage for me as an instructor. Classes could be listed on the webpage, and students could select whatever they needed to select. And for now, maybe the platform or delivery mode should be the last thing I’m worried about.
A New Opportunity
What I really need to do is back up and think about what it is I want a syllabus to do. Because, as we know, how I choose to communicate my syllabus should be driven by it’s purpose and goals. One of my biggest goals of course design is to create a customizable pathway.
But beyond that (as if that’s not enough!) what would I like a syllabus to do? What should be it’s functions? Let’s start with the assumption that a syllabus should communicate learning goals, how to access content, how to earn your grade, and so on. For a little inspiration, I went back to a favorite post called The Liquid Syllabus: Are You Ready?
In that post, the author, Michelle Pacansky-Brock wrote:
What if your syllabi were beautiful? What if they were a pleasure for students to engage with? What if they provided opportunities to not only understand and access policies, expectations, schedules and such, but for our students to meet us? What if the syllabus became a site where former students could share voices (stories, feedback, words of encouragement) with future students? Isn’t THIS what our goal should be as we move into this amazing landscape of mobile, digital media?
And what she said has always resonated with me. And it is also pushing me in a time when I need to be pushed. Because, the truth is, I have become very comfortable with my wikispaces format. That’s not a bad thing. Having comfort with the format has allowed me to play with the overall structure. I’ve experimented with gamification, badges, and competencies in my classes over the years.
But the format has remained relatively stable.
With wikispaces closing, I have no choice but to rethink my format. And while I have no answer – or even ideas to suggest – I like the idea of making it beautiful and a place where former students can interact with current ones. How can I make a syllabus interesting, enjoyable, and a document students want to read?
Those are some questions worth exploring.