I happened across a quite thought-provoking story today at the website “Ask Dr Kirk.” Dr Kirk draws our attention to a professor who has creatively chosen to use cartoons to convey the message of the syllabus. Not just putting a cartoon here or there, to highlight a point, or introduce levity. It’s the whole thing. All 4 pages of each of the samples are carefully crafted, highly skilled works of cartoon art created by the professor himself!
First, I have to say I admire the creativity involved, and the artistic ability of the professor, Dr Phillips. The graphics are, to my mind, superb, and reflect the hand of a highly skilled artisan. Check out this explanation of grading. Lovely work!
Second, I believe creativity in and out of the classroom helps the students better grasp the material, and stay engaged. I don’t know about you, but when I find something to be interesting I usually stay with it longer than I do with something boring, tedious, or just down-right painful.
Alas, the point: I found it difficult to actually make heads-or-tails out of the syllabus. Perhaps I am just too comfortable with structure. Perhaps I am too captive to the traditional language of the syllabus. But I couldn’t figure out at times what the specific requirements are for the course. In the graphic above, as a student I will know how points are earned, but I have no idea how many points are required for a given grade.
Sometimes things are even more vague. For instance:
In this clip (perhaps not too readable—sorry about that!) for week nine the syllabus suggests we “ask the owl” about whether a paper is due. Hmmmm… Is that clear and concise?
Now, lest I rush hastily to judgment, I thought perhaps this ol’ guy should check with a younger, more hip crowd. So I did. I asked my daughter’s boyfriend who is not only a college student, but a huge cartoon/comic fan, what he thought of the comic syllabus. I even handed it to him (printed out) with great enthusiasm, saying something like “hey, check out this cool syllabus! Whatcha think?”
His comments were similar to mine, with just a few added points.
1. “So, what do I have to DO in this class?”
2. “What do I have to do to get an A? B? I don’t see that listed anywhere?”
(and my favorite!)
3. “I hope he (the professor -ed) printed these out and handed them out in class. I would sure hate to waste all my ink on this.”
So there ya have it. Innovation is cute, but not necessarily effective. I am curious what other innovative things you, dear readers, have come across. Let me know, either in comments, or by email!
CAVEAT: We all understood that his syllabus is unique to his class, and perhaps at his school they all understand what expectations are for grades.