January 12th, 2024 Teaching & Learning on the Open Web Learning Community
We had our amazing colleague Sarita Shukla share some of her experiences with the Liquid Syllabus during our meeting this month. You can see a couple of her examples in the navigation on this site. In part, this event led to the upcoming event focused around several ways to offer a syllabus to students. We will have three faculty and a staff member present on “the why” of offering a syllabus in an alternative format. Here is the site we will use as a resource. It has amazing examples of faculty work! We will be looking at the Liquid Syllabus, a Graphic Syllabus, an Annotated Syllabus, and addressing accessibility concerns in all formats. Sarita will be sharing her experiences with implementing a Liquid Syllabus.
Sarita introduced me to liquid syllabi a few years ago, and I’m so happy that she did. I’ve started using them in my classes, for example in BES 301: Science Methods and Practice. What is a liquid syllabus? Basically a website version of the syllabus. Pacansky-Brock champions the liquid syllabus, and one of the benefits she emphasizes is the mobile-friendly platform. To me, that benefit is a component of another one: communicating to students in the way they read. Students read websites all the time. They know what visuals to attend to; they know how to skim for the most important information. So, talking to them through a website meets them where they’re at. It’s easy to update, too. For example, the welcome video is a fun way to situate a course in the here and now–talking about current events, recent discoveries, etc. My syllabus websites are modeled after Sarita’s with the following tabs: Home, Course Essentials, Questions, Policies, Resources, Grading, and Course Schedule. Then, it’s copying and pasting the appropriate sections from what used to be a single document. I added images as appropriate, but also used a style sheet to format different levels of headings and highlight hyperlinks. I found that those strategies were usually enough to keep the page easy-to-read…and I’m reassured that that is Sarita’s approach, too!
When describing her experience in a class with Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Sarita said something like, “I learned to meet the students where they are.” And she was talking about the language she uses in her liquid syllabus and the look and feel of it. She said she softened her tone compared to her earlier syllabi, and that she felt like she was making herself more approachable. It was interesting to hear that… Sarita is one of the kindest, most approachable people I know. But, I also know that teachers can have a “teacher face” in class and it may be different, maybe more strict or something, that they are out of class. Along with the various colors and shapes that a Google site can take, I think that more approachable language can make students more likely to take the time to experience what is on the syllabus. That is of course, the goal.
I think by meeting, “the students where they are,” she also noted that students are on the web and often in apps. And very often on phones. No one will use Canvas after college. By developing “class” experiences on the web we all work in and live with, we are, literally, where they are.
There are some other obvious advantages to creating content in a place that people access. We can learn more about how Sarita approaches her classes. We might see the policies she highlights, or a pattern to her coursework that we have not seen before. And to see and learn these things, we don’t need to ask Sarita to email us the class syllabus. This is true for students too. They can share the link with peers who may want to take the class. It is some soft marketing of your class.