The Graphic Syllabus
Dec 05 2012
I remember taking Physics in high school, where for the first time, a science class was not only easy to understand, but fun. I recall it was all because the new textbook explained Physics with simple drawings of how objects moved in space, instead of using merely text. Now, 25 years later, I am applying this principle to the course syllabus.
In “ARTC401-Senior Project I”, students acquire various skills of 3D modeling and animation to produce short animations from start to finish. Image 1 shows an excerpt of the text syllabus, with detailed description of weekly topics and assignments. Every semester I start with a syllabus overview, leading the students through an 8-page text syllabus.
This year, I supplemented it with a graphic syllabus and discussion (Image 2). This simple diagram illustrates the interconnectedness of all the modules in the course. There is a clear direction; each module feeding into the next, culminating in the central module, M8 Final Project. I utilized color and size to visually communicate the type and magnitude of each module.
I also thought it would be valuable for students to visualize the implications of their coursework, and how much each of their efforts counts towards their final grade.
Many fine arts students have complained to me about the interface design of Blackboard, so I faced a challenge. How can I make art students excited about using Blackboard? How can I make the interface more accessible?
Blackboard permits uploading of graphics, and I realized this feature could allow me to influence the graphical interface, enhancing the student experience while simultaneously communicating the schedule of each module period. I wanted it to be as easy as finding a New York subway train, so the graphics were inspired by NYC subway symbols, with colors and numbers for the different days of the module. This graphic was the first item that loaded in the course sections on Blackboard. (Image 5).
Overall, my students seem to appreciate these visual enhancements to the course. They can always refer to the text syllabus for details, and visualize how the pieces fit together into the big picture.
Associate Professor, Fine Arts
College of Arts and Sciences