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Module A ButtonTopic A10.3: Creating An Effective Online Syllabus

A] Format and Design

Linear or Script Style
Most syllabi are written in linear format. They proceed in order for several pages. But often in a linear syllabus, the objectives on page one don't match the course activities or assessments on page six. The architecture of the syllabus can become confusing if an instructor doesn't pay close attention to the connections between the elements. One of the best ways to plan a syllabus is to use a chart or flow chart model. Then write a linear syllabus from it, once the elements have become tight.

Flow Charts as a Syllabus
This may be used only for planning but it could also be used online as a quick visual representation of the syllabus and schedule. This helps to make sure that there is internal consistency among the elements. When written correctly, the syllabus should be totally redundant: the objectives and the assessments ("proofs"of the learning) should match; the learning activities should also match the "proofs" or assessments. In many cases the activities are duplicates of the assessments; that is, by doing the activity, the learner has proven that she has learned the material. (As a result, one begins to question what might go on an exam or quiz if the proofs are learned another way.)

For an example of a flow chart syllabus designed for a professional development course taught at Towson University, click to download/view the file Coursemap.rtf.

Module Course Design
Perhaps you wish your course to be laid out both linearly and in a flow chart. A module course design allows learners to see the relationship between the units of instruction and the assessments.

Click to download and view the file ModuleCourseMap.rtf for the award-winning module representation developed for the HORT400 course at the University of Maryland.

Block Design
Another way to visually organize course assignments is to arrange your course in blocks that show the relationships among the course elements. This example was designed when students could not understand a complex linear syllabus. Once the course design is presented in this format, the learners understood the relationship of the assignments to the entire course.

For an example of a block design syllabus, download and view the file Blockapproach.rtf. Note: this is the same professional development course presented in the Flow Chart sample above: compare the block design and the flow chart sample to see the similarities/differences in how the same course has been presented.


Remember: in designing any syllabus, you need to pay close attention to the connections among the elements. Not only are the above chart models a great way to plan a syllabus, they can also be used to present your syllabus online as an effective visual alternative or addition to providing the linear syllabus.


Learning Activity II

Using the syllabus content you developed in Learning Activity 1, try testing the internal consistency (redundancy and connections among the elements) by adapting it to one of the design formats presented above. You can design your own "template" by using the "Drawing" toolbar functions available in Microsoft Word (e.g., clicking on "text box," the arrows, etc.).

Once you have completed your template, do you see the consistency among the different elements (e.g., that your assessments are a direct match to your learning objectives? That your learning objectives match your learning activities, which, in turn, also match the assessments? ). If not, then you need to adjust your syllabus content "the different learning elements" until they do.


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