Tips from the Pros: Using Technology to Create an Interactive Syllabus

Using Technology to Create an Interactive Syllabus
As professors, we work hard to create the perfect syllabus for our courses. We outline our expectations, students' responsibilities, and important policies. Ideally, we do all of this with a learner-centered approach. We are told that the more information we provide, the more successful our students will be, and the more successful we will be as instructors. However, we often encounter students who no longer wish to turn to printed documents for information.

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As professors, we work hard to create the perfect syllabus for our courses. We outline our expectations, students' responsibilities, and important policies. Ideally, we do all of this with a learner-centered approach. We are told that the more information we provide, the more successful our students will be, and the more successful we will be as instructors. However, we often encounter students who no longer wish to turn to printed documents for information. Consider an alternative: the interactive syllabus. This type of syllabus can be engaging, visually stimulating, and environmentally friendly. Students are accustomed to using technology for information, so why not use technology to present syllabi? Research indicates that students want more frequent interaction with faculty. Faculty can begin that interaction with the syllabus before the term even begins. Armed with my printed syllabus and other resources, I discovered how easily I could convert each of the points of my syllabus into slides. Animation and graphics can add visual appeal to hold students' attention and interest. While there are other products I could use, I chose to use Microsoft Office Mix, a free add-in for PowerPoint. The goal was to create an interactive syllabus that students could access anytime, anywhere. Because I was already very familiar with PowerPoint, teaching myself to use the tools available in Mix did not seem so daunting. When I learned of this product, I was both intrigued and intimidated. Because I am well known among my students and peers as being somewhat technologically challenged, it was a bit scary for me to learn something new; however, I found the tutorials incredibly easy to follow, even for me. Mix inserts a new task ribbon into your PowerPoint that includes slide recordings; quizzes, videos, and apps; screen recordings; screenshots; and video and audio insertions. You can publish your Mix on mix.office.com and control who can view it. You can make a Mix private, which means that only you can view it. I do this until it is ready for others' viewing. You can set the privacy settings so that only those with the link you provide can view the Mix. You can also make your Mix available to the public. Analytical reports can track student activity. You can view analytics sorted based on slides, visitors, or exercises”? In this way, you can use the analytics to track which students viewed a slide, the number of times the students viewed it, how long they spent on each slide, and their answers to quiz questions. As students go through my syllabus, they are queried by the software on what they just viewed to make sure they not only looked at but also understood it. Some questions are set to one attempt. Others provide more chances for students to obtain the correct answer. When I include those types of questions, I provide feedback between each unsuccessful attempt to help guide students to the correct response. The results of quizzes can be included in the course grading structure. One component you might choose to include in the interactive syllabus could be a concept map of the course. Cmap Tools is a free program you can use to create a simple or detailed—and informative—concept map. A concept map can help students understand how an assignment relates to a topic and why it is meaningful within the context of the course. Moreover, simply creating a course concept map helps us learn more about what we plan to teach and how to plan course structure. Another option is to embed videos. With the autostart feature, the video begins when students advance to the slide—no additional clicks are needed. This would work well for your biography. If you want your students to visit a website, you can embed a web page right into your Mix. Students do not need to copy and paste a URL, which may not always work, causing frustration. Once they click on the slide in Mix, they are automatically in the website. This is a great time saver! There is so much more that you can do in Mix that I do not have the space to describe here. My students are more engaged on the first day of class, knowing that I am not simply going to “go over the syllabus.” They have already viewed it and have been quizzed on the important points. Some students even go back and view portions later, which I can continue to track throughout the semester. Download Mix, along with tutorials on how to use it, at https://mix.office.com/en-us/Home. Also, look at my syllabus for ideas on how you might design your own:  https://mix.office.com/watch/vv8yf1da7zhx. Create your own interactive syllabus with Mix. Your students will appreciate not needing to read a long, boring document, and you will have analytics as proof of their interaction with your syllabus. Kay A. Gowsell is an assistant professor of accounting at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College.