Paper syllabi are officially outdated. Many professors make their course syllabi available online as a downloadable file, but an increasing few are actually turning their syllabi into interactive blogs, which we refer to as syllablogs.
The benefits to students are remarkable. A syllablog is a destination for students to download materials and interact with their professor and other students. For professors, a syllablog offers a place to constantly keep students informed about schedules, changes, projects, resources and feedback. With the right tools, a syllablog can also be easily updated and viewed on a mobile device. It’s a modern way to engage students, and it’s a task that can be accomplished relatively quickly with little investment. Here’s a guide to getting started.
There are a number of ways free hosting platforms allow noncoders the chance to build a robust website or blog:
WordPress. This is one of the most popular ways to make free websites and blogs. The interface is basic enough that a beginner can easily create pages and posts, but robust enough that a more experienced user can customize HTML and CSS. There are a number of paid upgrades available, but a basic site is all you need for a syllablog. Check out Mindy McAdams’ post on using WordPress for syllabi here. Example: http://mmc4341.wordpress.com
Weebly. Rather than employing the standard text editor that most content management systems use, Weebly has built a drag-and-drop interface that is exceptionally useful for beginners. They also offer the ability to customize code and have a nifty form-building tool. Example: http://ucahaddigan.weebly.com
Tumblr. This isn’t exactly what Tumblr sites are meant for, but they are more than capable. Sites are designed for blog posts rather than pages, but the functionality does exist. If you plan to update your site on a regular basis, this is a great option. Example: http://muwrites.tumblr.com
Google Sites. If your college uses Google Apps for Education, you have access to Google Sites. All of the tools mentioned above have excellent mobile apps for updating, a feature that Google Sites currently lacks. The sites are accessible from mobile devices, however, and the integration with Google Docs, Calendar and YouTube is slick. Check out the Apps for Edu Google+ community for more information. Example: https://sites.google.com/site/baileygeogclasses
Since you have plenty of space and the ability to organize your site, add any content that might be helpful to your students. Here are some examples of what to include:
Inherent in the name “blog” is the expectation of fresh content on the site. While the examples above can be found in most syllabi, regular blog posts are what make the sites interesting and helpful to students. A weekly post is enough to keep students interested, and could include readings for the week, assignments, relevant news and requests for feedback.
Another way to keep your syllablog updated and interesting is to ask students to submit their own blog posts. Each student could submit one post per semester on a pertinent subject, and other students could offer feedback in the Comments section. It’s a strategic way to keep students engaged with the course material, and by making the topics current, it keeps them focused on the implications of the topic in the real world. By driving students to the syllablog on a regular basis, you also have a chance to keep students engaged with the syllabus on a regular basis.
The days of the static syllabus are fading. A modern syllabus should evolve to meet students’ needs. A blog platform makes syllabi more interesting and more helpful to both students and professors.