Cartoons as syllabus?

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.


One thought on “Cartoons as syllabus?

  1. I think you’re right–the students must understand his expectations without the need of the syllabus (perhaps he discusses these in class?). He assured me that the students not only loved his syllabi but that non-students would come by to ask for a copy. As I noted, his technique would not work for me in my business classes but I loved the creativity and energy that he puts into his work. I bet he is an interesting lecturer.

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