14 Jan 2020

Engaging Students with an Interactive Syllabus

Submitted by Amanda Reig, Ursinus College

Do you wish your students would read and remember more of your syllabus? Would you like to learn about the students in your classes before the first day? A few semesters ago, a colleague introduced me to the concept of the “Interactive Syllabus”, a web-based survey delivery of syllabus content to your students prior to the first day of classes. The template is customizable and designed to be engaging, informative, and easy for students to use. Each section of your syllabus becomes a part of the survey, which require students to acknowledge the provided information, respond to simple prompts (e.g. “Do you already have the textbook for this course? If not, what is your plan to acquire the book by the end of the first week of classes?”), or ask their own questions about the course content or policies.

I typically email my class a copy of my syllabus along with a link to the online survey 3-5 days before the first day of class and ask for completion by midnight before the first day of class. I administer the survey through Qualtrics, but any online survey platform would work. My response rates have typically been around 85-90%, even without any incentive.

The interactive syllabus is not a syllabus quiz, but instead a way for students to engage with the syllabus content in meaningful ways and provide the instructor with useful information about themselves. Using the interactive syllabus has allowed me to save quite a bit of time on the first day of class.  Since the students are already familiar with the syllabus and course structure, I limit my time on the syllabus to answering the questions they asked in the survey. In addition, I am able to get to know a bit about my students before the first day of class (nicknames, pronoun use, accommodation needs, etc.). The online format seems to encourage students to share questions/concerns they may not have been as eager to share in person. I have also found that it reduces student anxiety about the first day of class, especially for my first-year students in General Chemistry 1. They have a sense of who I am (there is a section about me, the instructor), what the requirements are for the course, and what to expect in the class before walking in the door on the first day. Finally, I have utilized the program to gather information about their thoughts on the course subject prior to the class, which forms the basis for a first-day discussion of course content (e.g. “List 5 words or short phrases you associate with Inorganic Chemistry”).

If you are interested in trying out the Interactive Syllabus, check out the Web Resource LO where you can find a pdf file with questions I have used in a previous semester, along with a link to the original Interactive Syllabus website where you can download a pre-built Qualtrics survey that you can customize.