The Syllabus as Verb

Recently, I wrote a post where I talked about how I structured my syllabus around the terms Read, Watch, Do, Play.  I used these terms because I thought they better captured the spirit of the work I was asking students to do in my upcoming online course.

I received some feedback on twitter:

Now, I don’t have all the answer here. I don’t really have any answers actually. I only have thoughts and idea. This whole read, watch, do, play thing as a way to structure my syllabus is new, and I have not enacted it yet. However, I do think it would work well in any context – F2F, hybrid, or online – for a few reasons:

It Makes Things Manageable 

As a student, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything you have to do in and for class. This structure – a class playlist – has the potential to calm everyone down. For my class, in Week 1, there are 11 things for students to do that week. Not all of them need to be completed within the first week, but most do (around 90%). Put that into one long list, and of course that seems daunting.

Break it up under the appropriate verb and suddenly, psychologically, it’s so much easier. The Read category has only one thing in it. You can do one thing! And you can do it right now and be done with that category for the week! You have immediately accomplished something. Play has two things and the other two columns have four.

Additionally, what do you, as a student, feel like doing today? Do you want to watch something? Play? Do both? Pick and choose your way through the week. While I often recommend an order for how to progress, that is never set in stone.

This works just as well in a F2F class, and it works well in two different ways:

  1. Just like in an online class, it keeps students structured and focused on what to do in-between sessions. The list is divided up in ways to make it easy to get through
  2. In class you can do the same thing. You don’t have to present it to your students this way, but you would think of your in class gathering as a series of verbs – and maybe even different ones. For example, watch, do, play work. So does Challenge, Solve, Question, Examine, Analyze, etc…You can change the verbs week to week for your in class session.

Riffing a bit more on #2, I always like to do a written overview of what we will be doing in a F2F class. I publish it a week in advance for students to see. It includes any links to things we will need during the session. While I might not break up the session based on verbs (though you could try it; i think it’s worth a go), I might bold the verbs or put them in all caps – something to draw attention to what they will be doing.

Breathe Life Into Your Syllabus

What I like about using verbs to organize and frame my syllabus – and even F2F sessions – is that it puts life back into them. These are not dead documents or boring sit and get lectures. I want my students to be active and engaged. Therefore, I need to create documents and experiences that reflect that.

Additionally, we can use the verbs as a way to from discussions. We talk about what we read, what we played, what we analyzed. The emphasis is always on doing something and what we learned from the experience. You can connect content back to the verb (remember when we analyzed this, played that, watched this, etc..).

It’s a small change, and it’s probably language you already use. The important aspect is reorganizing our syllabus/class around verbs and putting greater emphasis on them. When we do that, in any context, I think it has potential for not just getting students to be more active but connecting their activity to what they have learned. Hopefully it will help things stick.

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