DT Approach to an Inspiring Syllabus Challenge

I’m coming off a great first day of planning feeling inspired to innovate and push the envelope of what are best practices (or as I learned from my head of school today – successful practices.  After all, best practice implies there is no room to improve).  So I thought I’d go through a design thinking exercise that I’ve been meaning to try out.  About a month ago I came across a post by John Burke regarding his “Inspiring Syllabus Challenge”.  John presents a compelling reason we should reexamine syllabi in order to better “sell” our objectives to students.  Since this is planning week for me; seems an apt time to give this a shot.

In keeping with the spirit of my own blog I thought I’d add a design thinking element to syllabus challenge to see if I could validate it some how.  So, I set out to ask stupid questions and apply the 5 Whys technique to see if I could uncover some truth about about the information I’d like to convey in a syllabus.  At the same time I can put these techniques to the test.  Here we go:

Initial Design Question:  How might I redesign my syllabus in order to better “sell” students on the subject?

Why do I need to sell it?

Because it outlines what would be covered in the class.

Why do students need to know beforehand what will be covered in class?

So students know what to expect and whats expected of them.

Why do students need to know what is expected of them?

Because it sets expectations for behavior and helps teachers manage them.

Why do we require certain expectations for behavior?

So That we create an environment that maximizes learning.

Why does the syllabus help create an environment that maximizes student learning?

Mine doesn’t.

I’m not sure this worked perfectly – I probably could have stopped at the fourth question.  Also, I think for this technique to really work the questions need to be asked by an outsider.  Since I’m a teacher questioning my own policies, I may have some how channeled “what I want to hear” into the responses.  Ultimately, though, I’m pleased with the results.  I’m now looking at my syllabus as the first touch point for creating a learning environment that I think maximizes student learning.  So, what does that environment look like?  For my style its: active, inquiry based, participatory, organized, effective, fun.

Therefore, the new design question might be:  How might I recreate my syllabus into something active, inquiry based, participatory, organized, effective, and fun?

That’s a tall order, but one that could be fun to pursue. At least now I have a clearer picture of what I’m trying to achieve.

Now –  if only I had the guts to give it a try….


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