Thoughts on the Creating an Interactive Syllabus Workshop

The Creating an Interactive Syllabus Workshop, offered by the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), is an outstanding idea with awesome resources (see end of this post), lots of potential, but ineffective implementation.

I wasn’t sure about taking this workshop due to having just gone over designing a syllabus in the Online Teaching Certificate program. The last thing I wanted to do was add links to a document that was already too long in my opinion. Luckily, my concerns were addressed before day 1. Due to the accelerated nature of the workshop, I was given access to the course several days in advance. Under the list of resources, you had your links to creating hyperlinks within a Word or Google document–useful but no want I wanted–and then you had links to several free, multimedia-rich platforms for completely transforming what a syllabus could become and accomplish. Perfect!

Because I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, I will get my one complaint (and it’s a huge one) out of the way now:

The course officially begins on a Friday and ends on Sunday, leaving no room whatsoever for life’s complications. In fact, this accelerated timeline negatively impacted the effectiveness of the workshop. Numerous participants voiced their eagerness to work with some of the new multimedia tools, but were afraid to due to lack of time. Instead, they stuck with what they knew and focused on links within documents, as well as methods for grouping information via different fonts and colors to make the syllabus less academic and more in line with what you might see for a a graphic design student’s project. There is nothing wrong with that, but if the goal of the workshop is to encourage experimentation with new technology, clearly that compressed timeline has failed. There are three days of manic activity as everyone rushes to rejuvenate their syllabus, then nothing. Done. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for reflection and despite how large the cohort was, everything still came to a standstill (more-or-less) the day after the workshop ended.

I ended up not doing much outside of experimenting because this weekend ended up being the weekend where I had to finalize my move. It was supposed to take half a day and instead took the entire weekend. As I said before, the compressed timeline of the workshop leaves no room for life’s issues. If you enroll–and I still would do it again–make sure there is absolutely nothing else going on that weekend that will occupy your time.

And if you don’t have a syllabus prior to the workshop? Get one, fast!

Now onto the positive!

While I will probably have to do a different workshop for credit to apply toward my Online Teaching Certificate, I’m still glad to be enrolled in the workshop. The feedback that others posted will be useful as I experiment with a multimedia oriented syllabus on my own. OLC also allows you to view a workshop for up to a year since it started, so that’s nice. I had also never heard of some of the suggested resources. They include:

smore is an online platform that allows you to create graphically-rich flyers, and there is a free option available. They have an enormous library of graphics. Our Training Department uses a similar program, but it costs about $40 a year.

Easel.ly is similar to smore, but with a focus on info-graphics and concept maps.

ThingLink is an awesome tool for turning any image or video into subdivided clickable areas.

populr.me is an easy-to-use website generation template that allows you to create a multimedia-rich blog or site that can then be embedded within BlackBoard (I think). Best of all, if you are a school or educator, you can register for a complimentary account and it is free to use and you can use it for an unlimited amount of pages.

PowToon is a promising animated presentation creator that was mentioned by one of the students. From the examples I’ve seen, it looks like it can do a lot for very little.

My own plan is to create and utilize a populr page, then use a concept map within easel.ly to illustrate all of the topics covered in the syllabus: contact information, venue, disability support services, other information, etc. By using ThingLink, all of those concept areas can be turned into clickable hyperlinks that take the user to populr subpages where each page is solely dedicated to that topic. Areas that are mandated by the institution will be within an area of one uniform color, whereas information unique to that particular course will appear on the other side in a different color. This way, all that standard stuff doesn’t get in the way of the overall syllabus after the student has seen it once, but it is still accessible should they need to learn more.

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