Summer Faculty Institute 2016

foodforthought copy

Given the centrality of food in Christian practice and imagination, what might it mean to “eat well” in our teaching, learning, and scholarship? How might eating as a metaphor enlarge our thoughts and shape the ways we organize our classrooms, plan our syllabi, prepare our lessons, write our articles, and live in our academic communities?

We invite you to join us for a 3- day Faculty Institute, May 16-18!  We’ll kick off with a keynote from Dr. Susan Felch, Director of the Center for Christian Scholarship at Calvin College —  “Food for Thought”  — on Monday at 11:30, and then host two concurrent workshops with four sessions each:
Monday (1:30-3:30)
Tuesday (9:00-11:00; 1:00-3:00)

No cost for ACU faculty/adjuncts.

Cost for faculty outside the ACU system:
Keynote only $25 per person
Full Summer Faculty Institute $100 per person [Click here to register]
Group of 20 or more from one institution $75 per person (call for details)

The workshop descriptions are below.

Finding your Scholarly Vocation with Dr. Susan Felch
The purpose of this workshop is to develop your self-understanding as a scholar, to understand habits and practices that support continuing scholarly work, and to explore the breadth and benefits of Christian scholarship.  Each of the three workshop sessions will include a presentation, discussions, and the opportunity to share ongoing scholarly work. Short articles and other readings will be distributed in advance.

Creating Flipped Classrooms
Scores of studies have demonstrated that the flipped classroom structure is beneficial for student learning, especially for first generation and underrepresented students. This hands-on series of workshops will prepare you to deliver one of your classes using the flipped model and try it for yourself.

Please RSVP by April 29.


Paths to personalized learning

paths to personalized learningIn February, 2016, I worked with Dr. Alexander Romiszowski of Syracuse University in writing a series of articles about personalized learning for World Innovation Summit for Education’s Ed Review.  In this series we put the much-hyped personalized learning in historical perspectives, and offered suggestions that may help educators think and design educational experiences conducive to effective personalized learning.

Some exemplary work by ACU faculty is also discussed in this series.


Check below for the articles.


Video response: saving time without losing touch

Dr. Vic McCracken

One significant but rarely discussed issue with online teaching is that both teachers and students could have a “reading overload.” Appropriate use of online teaching tools and media components help to address this problem. In a recent Adams Center session for engaging students,  Dr. Vic McCracken shared a few of his methods which we found fascinating.  

When teaching his CORE210 course online, Dr. McCracken had 25 students who were asked to participate in online discussions. It is extremely time-consuming to respond to 25 students’ posts individually.  More importantly, student views may overlap at times, and it does not add value to learning experiences to repeat similar responses.  So instead of responding to each student, Dr. McCracken recorded a video response every day to share with students.  This is a three-week course, which he thinks makes it necessary to post a response daily.  If it is a full semester-long course, weekly video response may be sufficient.

To make sure students watch his video responses, he asked students to post at least one response to his response. Students were held accountable to interact as he graded these responses. Such video feedback, as well as student responses to feedback, add immediacy and personal presence to his course, while also reducing the time demand for him and students.  

Time thus saved can be used elsewhere in the teaching process, such as individualized feedback on papers. For these papers, Dr. McCracken marked on them first, using notes and color-coded highlights, and then he used Camtasia to record screencast sessions to give students detailed explanation.

Here are some additional suggestions for more efficient use of time in providing feedback to students in an online setting:

  1. Use assignments to collect student work.  I strongly advise against using email to collect student work as this creates much busywork for both you and students. Use the assignment tool to collect almost any type of digital artifacts, as the assignment tool makes it so much easier for you and students to send work back and forth, mark on them, and type or record comments without having to create folders in your email or on your computers and spend time looking for them later.
  2. Use a forum: Instead of using university email or inbox of Canvas to interact with students one by one on logistical issues, create an online forum titled “questions and answers”, as students may ask the same questions.
  3. Use virtual “office hours”: If you sense that many members of the class are struggling with the same issues, consider hosting a virtual office hours session using Canvas Conference or Chat, which allows you to meet synchronously with students.  Make sure you offer alternative time slots (one in the morning, one in the evening, for instance) for students who may have schedule conflicts.

Do you have any other thoughts on the ways to improve the efficiency of student interaction in online settings?  Please share with us!  


My Best Lecture: The Casual Adventurer’s Guide to the Sistine Chapel Ceiling

In the fall of 2014, the Adams Center began our popular “My Best Lecture” series, which spotlights faculty presenting on a topic that excites them and engages their students. The series connects colleagues across the university to engage meaningful conversations and to nurture our relationships with one another.

In this video, Dan McGregor presents his best lecture: The Casual Adventurer’s Guide to the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. For centuries, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s famous Sistine frescoes have been considered one of the towering achievements of Western Art. But why? Do they deserve their august reputation? Are they worth visiting, considering the twin headaches of being herded like tourist-livestock and shushed by guards? This lecture will unpack the secrets, symbolism, and cultural impact of this most famous cycle of paintings.

How to check word count in Canvas

Canvas Speedgrader does not have a Word Count feature, though it is under development according to this thread.  Before this feature becomes available, you can get your word count in either of these two ways. This may be a fairly minor issue, but it can be annoying if you keep having to copy text into a word processor for word count while grading.

Display word count with an Browser extension

If you use Chrome or Firefox, install an extension called “Word Count Tool”. I could not find a similar tool in Safari yet, but please share if you find one.

Word count extension for Chrome

Once installed, highlight any text (or the entire paper), right click, and then click on “Word Count Tool”, you will be able to see the detailed Word Count information, like this:

Word Count information

Display word count with Turnitin

If you enable Turnitin for student assignment, Turnitin allows you to see the Word count for the paper fairly easily.

Click on the percentage that represents matching, such as “8%” below.

percentage of matching

Click on “Text-Only Report” at the bottom right corner.

Text-only Report

Now you should be able to see the word count for the submission.

word count in turnitin

Online Teaching Certificate Program

Online teaching is being seen as a “disruptive innovation” for higher education with the potential for changing the ways students learn (Read this New York Times article for more information). On many campuses, online teaching is a regular alternative to face-to-face teaching. We invite you to join the Spring 2016 Adams Center certificate program for online teaching.

These sessions will be held around twice a month during the lunch hours (11:30am -1:00pm). During each session participants will develop, as a community, conceptual understanding about best practices in various aspects of online teaching. Each session will also include hands-on activities for participants to finish developing at least one sample module. If you do not intend to teach an online course, you may also find such sessions useful if you incorporate online components into your regular face-to-face, blended or flipped classes. 

Please RSVP to or call 2455 to make your reservations.

The sessions will include the following topics and activities:

Module 1: Getting ready to teach online, Monday, Jan 25, 2016

In this session, we are going to examine the benefits of online teaching, what quality looks like, what others have done and what the next steps will be. The end products for this session include:  a course shell to work in and a plan for building the course.

Module 2: Creating Online Content, Thursday, Feb 18, 2016

In this session, we are going to brainstorm ways to “translate” face-to-face teaching into online formats, including different types of content and design principles for delivering content. We would expect you to develop sample content for one module.

Module 3: Assessing Learning in An Online Setting, Thursday, March 3, 2016

In this session, we are going to explore ways to assess learning online, including traditional assessment strategies and alternative online assessment methods.  For this session we would expect you to develop, for at least a sample module, online tests,  assignments and other activities for assessing students

Module 4:Facilitating Online Interaction, Thursday, March 24, 2016

In this session, we are going to explore ways to promote teacher-student, student-student and student-text interaction in an online setting.   We expect you to develop your strategy to create “presence” in your online class, space for interaction, and discussion forums, sample questions & grading rubrics.

Module 5: Using Media in Online Teaching, Thursday, April 7, 2016

In this session, we are going to show ways to build and manage media components in teaching, including audio, video and screencasting components that an effective online course should include. We would expect you to select media format to be used, download screencasting applications, and create sample screencast / video / audio segments for your course.

Module 6: The Talent Show, Monday, April 18, 2016

In this session, participants will each spend a few minutes demonstrating their online courses for peers to learn from.

Please contact Berlin Fang ( if you need further information.

Adams Center Learning Feast and Festival

RecipeCardEach new semester brings a chance to try new approaches in your courses: we get the opportunity to rethink how we present material, connect with students and content, or assess learning. Join us for our Spring Semester kickoff on Friday, January 15 for a Learning Feast, a mini-conference with food, great ideas, and a chance to share with your colleagues new strategies you are using in your classes.  

The Learning Feast will run from 11:30-3:00 with different options during each time slot.  This come-and-go event will provide food, four sessions worth of teaching ideas you can integrate into your courses this semester, and a flash drive “cookbook” of learning recipes and ideas.


11:20-12:10 Session 1

Learning Strategies Roundtable — Laura Carroll, Jennifer Shewmaker, David Christianson, Berlin Fang (Classroom)

Join us for quick overviews of four different strategies you can integrate into your classrooms — from enabling students to combat bias to using Canvas for active learning. There will be four stations on different topics, with the opportunity to rotate among the stations for 10 minutes each. Participants can attend each station or choose to focus on those of particular interest. 

Adobe Apps and Creative Cloud — Marisa Beard and Lyndell Lee (Woods)

Curious about how to use our new Adobe access? Join us!


12:15-12:55 Session 2

Speed Geeking —  David Christianson (Classroom)

Speed Geeking invites ACU faculty to share an example, activity, or idea that might enhance teaching. Each presenter (first come, first serve!) will have 7 minutes to present their ideas or experiences, after which listeners will rotate to the next idea. Topic ideas might include storytelling, gamification, problem-based learning, reflective writing, flipping the classroom, writing strategies, student engagement techniques, and other things we haven’t dreamed of (but you have).

One-on-One Consultations — Laura, Berlin, Jennifer (Conference Room)

Want the chance to brainstorm one-on-one about ideas for your courses? Come ask questions about writing, active learning, Canvas, or anything else you’d like to brainstorm about for your courses.

Understanding your IDEA feedback — Marisa and Lyndell (Woods)

Learn how to interpret your student feedback and use it to shape your approaches to teaching.

Stage 1 — Kyle Dickson (Bamboo Room)

Our main production studio upstairs in the Learning Studio is now available to trained faculty and students. Stage 1 makes high quality video possible in 3 creative zones. Allow yourself to be inspired and challenged to upgrade your video projects using the same tools industry pros use.


1:15-1:55 Session 3

Speed Geeking Round 2–  David Christianson (Classroom)

Speed Geeking invites ACU faculty to share an example, activity, or idea that might enhance teaching. Each presenter (first come, first serve!) will have 7 minutes to present their ideas or experiences, after which listeners will rotate to the next idea. Topic ideas might include storytelling, gamification, problem-based learning, reflective writing, flipping the classroom, writing strategies, student engagement techniques, and other things we haven’t dreamed of (but you have).

One-on-One Consultations — Laura, Berlin, Jennifer (Conference Room)

Want the chance to brainstorm one-on-one about ideas for your courses? Come ask questions about writing, active learning, Canvas, or anything else you’d like to brainstorm about for your courses.

Adobe Apps and Creative Cloud — Marisa and Lyndell (Woods)

Curious about how to use our new Adobe access? Join us.

Stage 1 — Kyle (Bamboo Room)

Our main production studio upstairs in the Learning Studio is now available to trained faculty and students. Stage 1 makes high quality video possible in 3 creative zones. Allow yourself to be inspired and challenged to upgrade your video projects using the same tools industry pros use.


2:00-2:45 Session 4

Recipe and Action Planning — Berlin (Classroom)

In the last part of the learning feast, you’ll get the chance to reflect on how you might use the strategies you’ve been thinking about.  We will ask you to finalize and present your learning “recipes”, which will include name of the learning solution you are cooking up, time to prepare it, servings (large classes or small classes) , ingredients, and steps to follow. No cooking skill is needed, but some action planning is expected!

Understanding your IDEA feedback — Marisa and Lyndell (Woods)

Learn how to interpret your student feedback and use it to shape your approaches to teaching.

Stage 1 — Kyle Dickson (Bamboo Room)

Our main production studio upstairs in the Learning Studio is now available to trained faculty and students. Stage 1 makes high quality video possible in 3 creative zones. Allow yourself to be inspired and challenged to upgrade your video projects using the same tools industry pros use.


Holy Hospitality: Following the Call of Jesus to Welcome ALL Children with Dana Pemberton

We all know the passages. Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me.” Let the little children come to me . . for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God Belongs. And yet, we often struggle in our churches and children’s ministries to welcome many of the children we encounter — children who are difficult, different and even damaged. How does our theology of childhood limit our ability to welcome all children? What perspectives might equip us better to answer the call the let the little children come?

Social media and student self-regulation: Can they coexist?

We often blame technology and social media for distraction, lack of social skills, etc. Is it possible, however, to leverage the power of social media to facilitate learning communities outside of the classroom? In this presentation, Stephen Baldridge looks at the literature behind this and details ongoing research conducted on campus about utilizing Twitter to build community and increase healthy academic behaviors with students.

The Idea of the University: Pursuing Wisdom in an Information Age: Critical Reflection on Newman’s Idea of a University

We live in a world with unprecedented access to vast quantities of information. In one sense, we feel more connected through social media and various technological advances. At the tap of a finger, the requested pieces of information are readily available. Yet, such information alone does not necessarily produce understanding or wisdom. In a more profound sense, we recognize the difference between acquiring many pieces of information and seeing how they fit together in light of one another. Recognizing such a difference raises an important question: what does it mean to pursue wisdom in an information age? This session explores the relevance of John Henry Newman’s thought for addressing such a question. Readings for this session can be found here.

Houston Heflin researches HeadsUp as a technology tool in collaborative learning environments

The Adams Center would like to recognize faculty who have exhibited extraordinary teaching, scholarship and service. We want to congratulate faculty members for their hard work, achievements and advancements in their field. This month we are spotlighting Houston Heflin, who was nominated for his research on the impact of mobile technology on student learning.

Heflin_Houston108x153What are you doing? 

Over the past two years I have collaborated with the Adams Center and Cornerstone faculty to investigate the efficacy of HeadsUp as a technology tool in collaborative learning environments (small groups). HeadsUp was created at ACU to facilitate assigning students to small groups and then disseminating prompts as well as roles for students to fill as they engage in conversations created by an instructor. Beyond positive faculty reports of its effectiveness, we were interested in learning what influence HeadsUp has on student engagement and critical thinking.

(This collaborative research project would not have been possible without significant contributions from Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker, Jessica Nguyen, Lyndell Lee, an undergraduate researcher, and two graduate assistants.)

Our research involved 159 students participating in 39 different small groups that were constructed in one of three ways: “common practice,” “best practice,” and “HeadsUp.” The common practice groups were characterized by the instructor verbally stating the prompt and the students self-selecting the small groups. The best practice groups were distinguished by the instructor handing out a written prompt and the students being assigned to random groups. Finally, HeadsUp groups were also assigned random small groups and had the written prompt for the small group on their mobile device. Each group was required to answer the prompt with a written response at the end of their group time.

Comparing the qualitative data from the written responses, the quantitative data from exit surveys of students, and most interestingly, the video footage of these students involved in their small groups, we are hoping to draw conclusions about the most effective ways for teachers to construct small groups and implement technology in classes.

Why are you doing it? 

It is now commonly accepted that lecture cannot be the only teaching strategy used in college classrooms where faculty seek student engagement. Collaborative learning environments (or small groups) are one way to help students engage one another and the content of our courses. But what exactly is happening in these small groups?

Many faculty have observed social loafing and passive group participants who use small group time as an opportunity to disengage. Is there any critical thinking happening in the best small groups? How might faculty construct small groups so that students are truly learning? And how can technology be employed in classes so that it facilitates rather than distracts from learning?

These are questions we hope to answer. As we reach conclusions to these questions, we believe they have the potential to improve the quality of our teaching and the quality of our students’ learning.

Why do you think it is important to incorporate this practices into the classroom? 

Each year we see a report published from the National Study of Student Engagement because educators have learned that engaged students are more likely to be learning. Or as Terry Doyle has said in a book on learner-centered teaching, “The one who does the work does the learning.” Small groups are one way to engage students in active conversation that helps them discover and learn, but all small groups are not created equal…

Some small groups demand more of students, requiring them to follow specific, layered instructions. Some small groups require students to take a position on an issue they might not agree with. Some small groups require students to fulfill a role for the group to function. And some small groups require written or verbal products at the end of the group time. Theses are just a handful of the many ways small groups are constructed differently, and they may all impact learning differently. We want to know what these differences mean for learners.

Who is being impacted the most? 

The people most impacted by collaborative learning environments and technology are the faculty and students who use these tools in the classroom. Faculty at ACU have access to many resources and technology tools, but it often takes work to learn the tools that are most effective for the courses we teach. In addition, we are not always sure about the positive impact it has on education — if the payoff is worth the effort to learn the tool.

What hopes do you have for the future when this work is done? 

When our work is completed, we hope to be able to speak confidently about the ways faculty can construct small groups in order to promote learning. We also hope to describe ways technology can supplement our teaching and not distract students during small group discussions. Ultimately, I hope the faculty at ACU will continue innovating in the classroom, whether through the use of technology or other teaching strategies such as small groups, to promote more student engagement and, ultimately, student learning.

For further information on Houston’s research, please see his Adams Center presentation, The Impact of Mobile Technology on Student Attitudes, Engagement, and Learning.

My Best Lecture: Tom Lee

How are community dynamics shaped by ecological change and the interacting of human and natural histories? Tom Lee discusses what he learned from 14 summers spent in Northern Michigan, studying rodent populations in bogs and old growth white pine forests. Watch this latest contribution to our My Best Lecture series.

Terry Baggs and Denise Barnett publish research on cognitive variables and graduate program success

The Adams Center would like to recognize faculty who have exhibited extraordinary teaching, scholarship and service. We want to congratulate faculty members for their hard work, achievements and advancements in their field. This month we are spotlighting Terry Baggs and Denise Barnett, who were nominated for their research on predicting success in graduate programs when looking at cognitive variables.

terry-baggs Denise_BarnettWhat are you doing? 

We partnered with Kim McCullough of Appalachian State University to embark on a multi-year and multi-university research project to assess the relationship between the cognitive variables commonly used in graduate admissions with a student’s success in graduate speech-language pathology. This project became the largest known project of its kind. For the independent variables, we considered overall GPA, GPA in the major, GRE scores, and science courses required by the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (These courses include biological science, physical science, and speech-hearing science.) Because our secondary accreditation body gauges program success based on student’s credentialing examination, the Praxis, it was decided to utilize the Praxis score as the dependent variable. More than 200 graduate students at four universities in the mid-south and southwestern United States participated with a response rate of 97%. We found that course grades in physical science and speech-hearing science and scores on the GRE were able to predict success on the Praxis examination with a high degree of accuracy. Being part of a clinical rehabilitation profession, we were also interested in knowing if any of these independent variables were related to clinical success. We discovered a significant correlation between the quantitative score of the GRE and clinical performance. These findings were published recently in the Journal of Allied Health (JAH, 2015, 44[1], 10-16).

Why are you doing it? JAH

All rehabilitation therapies (PT, OT, and Speech) are experiencing record demand for therapists and subsequent record numbers of applications for graduate school. Admission committees talk about numbers of applicants typically in the hundreds per program for only a few openings. (We have personally experienced this at ACU. This year, our program received 227 applications for 24 openings.) Can we improve the admission process by assessing typical variables? Is it possible to make the process more efficient by assessing the predictive value of these variables? Our findings have helped us solidify our admissions process here at ACU.

Why do you think it is important to incorporate this practice into the classroom? 

University graduate admissions committees have an ethical responsibility to students, potential future patients, and other constituents to admit only qualified applicants for their graduate programs. It is important to accept students who can meet the demands of academic and clinical work and pass their credentialing examination without the need for remediation. We believe that graduate admissions should not be relegated to guesswork but be grounded in an evidence base.

Who is being impacted the most? 

We believe this research assists graduate programs in finding the students who will succeed academically and become an exceptional therapist. This research impacts potential students, graduate programs, and future patients who will benefit from the services of our graduates.

What hopes do you have for the future when this work is done? 

Our first research project was recently published in the Journal of Allied Health. We are hopeful that many university admissions committees will benefit from our findings and will be able to advocate for modifying the process. Because of the aforementioned findings, we are embarking on a new study to assess the relationship between the SAT/ACT scores and the GRE in speech-language pathology students. We believe that early identification may assist undergraduate programs in recognizing good students who need some assistance in developing skills that will lead to acceptance into a graduate program.

The Idea of the University Reading List

The Idea of the University is a Faculty Learning Community taking place in the Adams Center over the course of the Fall 2015 semester. Purposeful teaching and research at ACU is dependent upon sustained and serious reflection upon the idea of the Christian University within our context. Along these lines, the group will explore the theological and philosophical rationale for the idea of ACU. The four sessions will be open to all faculty and administrators. The readings will be a springboard for discussion and will include theological and philosophical accounts of the idea of a university and of the relevant conceptual issues (e.g., the aims of education).

Please refer to the following for the assigned readings for each session:

Session 1: September 24

  • R.S. Peters, Education as Initiation (London: The University of London Institute of Education, 1964), pp. 7-48.
  • Basil Mitchell, “Religious Education,” in Faith and Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 131-150.

Session 2: October 19

Session 3: October 26

Session 4: November 9

  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Higher Christian Education (Eerdmans, 2004), pp. 155-171

The Impact of Mobile Technology on Student Attitudes, Engagement, and Learning

In this presentation, Houston Heflin shares the results of a study examining student engagement and higher order thinking skills in a cooperative learning environment both with and without mobile devices. The study was conducted with 170 university students in three different randomly assigned learning groups. Results compare the groups in four areas of attitudes, performance, perceptions, and engagement.

Lockdown Browser – Pilot

If you have opened your Canvas since 3:00 p.m. on September 3, you likely noticed the new link “Lockdown Browser.” Educational Technology and the Adams Center are conducting a pilot of Lockdown Browser as a secure testing environment. By opening the integration between Lockdown Browser’s LTI and Canvas, the link was automatically populated to all existing courses. The link appears in all courses, but is only operable for pilot professors.

The link does not appear to students. If you would like to hide it from your view as well you can follow these instructions.

Things to consider before an online test

Having online quizzes saves you time from manually grading your quizzes. It gives you flexibility in moderating the quiz. However, as with other tools, it will take some time for you and your students to get used to it.  Here are a few suggestions I would give for you to ensure a smooth testing experience:

  1. Before you develop your quiz, I strongly recommend that you read this article: What options are available for Quizzes? 
  2. Remember that you do NOT have to use every option in Quiz settings.  Some are optional.  Be especially careful with the timing of your quizzes.  Read this article for some basic understanding of how due dates and availability work: What is the difference between assignment due dates and availability dates?  (This applies to quizzes too.)  Check with us if you are not sure.
  3. Start your semester by having fewer restrictions instead of using all of your restrictive parameters concurrently (limited time, due dates, available dates, access code…).  Add restrictions as you and your students become familiar with the testing environment.
  4.   Have an ungraded, one-question “test quiz” in your course with no time limit and unlimited attempts that students can always take before a real quiz to make sure everything works for their device.
  5. Make it part of students’ responsibility to get ready for the tests.  For instance, they should close all non-related windows or apps on their computers or devices.  Ideally they should restart their computer before a test.  They may also need to check their Internet connection, battery power, and automatic updates that could interrupt testing. Advise students to obtain help before class if they have found problems.  Do not use too much class time for troubleshooting.
  6. Go to student view (settings –> student view) to see and take the quiz from a student perspective to make sure everything works.  If you find problems with your questions or answers, make changes before everyone else takes it.
  7. Have a few hard copies of your tests ready, just in case.

Contact an instructional designer for help if needed as you get ready to release your quiz or exams online.

Check this page for additional Canvas resources.

“It’s all in the syllabus”, but why aren’t they paying attention?


College syllabi are often perceived as legal documents, with fine prints increasingly verbose, as the teaching profession itself gets complex, through integration of technology, innovations in teaching practices and the need to comply with various laws and regulations that have to be enforced on campuses.

For the protection of professors and students, it is still necessary to include “fine print” legalese in your instructional policies, which reside naturally in a syllabus container, unless better methods are invented and successfully promoted to replace the tradition. It is also necessary to have such detailed syllabi for course reviewers (university councils for instance) to have a consistent set of standards and formats to go by in evaluating new courses. Potential students may also appreciate consistent formats from an institution to be able to compare apples to apples when selecting courses.

However, “It’s all in the syllabus” is no guarantee for communication. While syllabi serve as legal documents, they should also have a communicative function. Here are a few suggestions to improve their potentials to communicate:

  1. Test students over syllabus content. To ensure students read your syllabus, create a short quiz. It does not have to be difficult. Design something “trivial” even! That should balance the seriousness of the tone in the syllabus. For instance, test them over your office location. You could also use such a quiz to familiarize students with the quizzing function of your learning management system. There is the stone to kill two birds! Alternatively, use games in class to test mastery of content in your syllabus. Ask students to conduct a scavenger hunt, or, as Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker did with a  “syllabus jigsaw puzzle” game, have groups focus on different parts of the syllabus, and present on each of them in class, so that, through sharing, students get a fuller picture of what you are expecting through the syllabus. However, be careful that not everything has to be internalized. Some requirements and policies should stay in the head, while others can live “in the world” (Norman, 1988), available to students when the need arrives. This will distribute their cognitive load for better learning.
  1. Apply sound design principles. To be fair, it is challenging enough at the beginning of the semester (the “drinking from the firehose” period) to read multiple pages of syllabi from different classes. Student will be all the more miserable if you are not considerate with the design of your message. In order to show students that certain messages are more important than others in your syllabus, sometimes I see professors seem to have put all fonts and colors together and throw a grenade into it to create quite a mess with all caps, italics, bold, colors, or all of the above, to call attention to important details, when the application of good design principles would create more engaging flow for reading and make emphasized content stand out in a natural way. Consider applying the PRAC principles(Proximity, Repetition, Alignment, Contract) described in Robin Williams’s The Non-Designer’s Design Book.   Move similar content, such as university policies together (proximity), repeat your pattern (such as use only bold for emphasis throughout the document), use consistent alignment scheme, and show contrast between subheadings and regular text.
  1. Put your syllabus on a diet. Instead of cramming everything into a gigantic syllabus, create an orientation module or page in your course. Put your printable syllabus on a diet by offloading to this orientation area such content as the schedule of activities, assignment requirements, and grading rubrics.  Canvas has “syllabus” tools that can automatically generate calendar items based on your due dates, and allow you to create links to pages which may be chunks of content from your syllabus. If students do not read a 5-page syllabus, they may click on a link to a page for grading policies only.
  1. Create alternative syllabus representations. While you may want to keep your “fine print”, “legal contract” version of the syllabus, create alternative representations of your syllabus to better communicate your expectations. For instance, use infographic, audio or video to represent information you would like to emphasize.   Adobe Slate is a fairly easy tool to use to create a flow of content with graphic. There are also various mindmapping tools for you to create advanced organizers or visual representations of your requirements. If you want to be even more creative, how about making a short movie about your course requirements?
  1. Translate action verbs into actionable items. Usually you describe in a syllabus what you would like students to do, and expect them to understand and act upon these descriptions.   I would suggest that you do not stop with action verbs. Use action items. For instance, instead of including a long rubric in your syllabus showing how you will grade a paper, create an assignment tool in your learning management system and associate it with a rubric. Directly use a rubric to grade their work. This will remove inconsistency between your assessment plan and actual actions. Another example: instead of making human decisions whether to accept a late assignment, use an assignment tool in Canvas to mark assignments as late, or prevent further submissions after the due dates. Instead of just posting an academic honesty policy, use originality checking tool (such as Turnitin) in your assignment collection process. In other words, your requirements will not just be “all in the syllabus”, but “all in the course”, spread out and close by when students work on tasks or when you grade them.

All of the suggestions above are based on the understanding that you will set requirements. You can also incorporate student insights and backgrounds by involving them in the development of your syllabus. When their input is incorporated, a syllabus is no longer the “law” a professor imposes, but a living contract for both parties to honor.


  1. Norman, D. A. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things (1st ed.). New York: Basic Books.
  2. Williams, R. (2004). The Non-Designer’s Design Book (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.