NISOD Workshop logo image
Home/Available Workshop Topics/Workshop Topic Detail

Workshop Topic Detail

Motivational Syllabus Boot Camp: Redesign Your Syllabus


Are you using the syllabus as a motivational tool? Come discover what the research says about the syllabus. We’ll focus on how tone, visual tools, and length can motivate and engage students. Bring your syllabus and you’ll walk away with a revised syllabus that is sure to increase motivation and learning. You’ll be amazed at how simple but powerful changes can make a world of difference and set your students up for success. Resources such as a syllabus checklist are shared. Also discussed are ways to engage students with the syllabus on the first day of class and throughout the semester.

By the end of this workshop, participants know or be able to:

    • Understand the purpose and value of the syllabus.
    • Understand key findings from research studies on syllabus tone, content, and length.
    • Understand the intersection of the syllabus and student motivation and the powerful role of the faculty member in creating and sustaining student motivation.
    • Use theory and research to revise a syllabus aimed at increasing motivation and learning.

Plans for Audience Participation and Interaction:

After introductions and a brief overview of the session, participants move to breakout rooms to discuss the various purposes of the syllabus. Ideas will be posted on a Google document and discussed when we return to the large group discussion. Key points are summarized. The work of Grunert, O’Brien, Millis, and Cohen (2008) and Matejka and Kurke (1994) serve as a backdrop for the discussion. For instance, participants discuss how the syllabus can be used to set the tone for the course, motivate students, clearly communicate learning outcomes, set expectations, share policies, support students in their success, and visually organize the course. Participants also consider a study on faculty and student perceptions of the syllabus and discuss whether this document is still needed with LMS technologies (Harrington in press). Participants also engage in an in-depth conversation about research that has been conducted on the syllabus. During several breakout discussions, participants are encouraged to serve as critical friends to one another, providing valuable feedback and suggestions for further improvements on the syllabus. The syllabus checklist that is distributed can serve as useful tool during this revision process. The focus will then shift to the faculty role in promoting student use of this important document. Participants also discuss the importance of and strategies for engaging students with the syllabus throughout the semester. This workshop concludes with a “show and tell” activity during which participants share at least one change they made or plan to make to their syllabus.


Facilitator Photo

Dr. Christine Harrington has worked in higher education for more than 20 years and is an expert on student success and teaching and learning. Currently, she is a professor and co-coordinator of the Ed.D. in Community College Leadership program at New Jersey City University. Previously, she worked at Middlesex College for 18 years in a variety of roles, including professor of psychology and student success, director for the Center for the Enrichment of Learning and Teaching, first-year seminar course coordinator, counselor, and disability services provider. Christine also served a two-year appointment as the executive director for the Center for Student Success at the New Jersey Council of County Colleges. Christine is the author of numerous books and articles related to teaching and learning. Her most recent book, Keeping Us Engaged: Student Perspectives (and Research-Based Strategies) on What Works and Why was written with 50 student contributors. She co-authored Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based Strategies to Enhance Lecture Effectiveness with Todd Zakrajsek and Designing a Motivational Syllabus: Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement with Melissa Thomas, both published by Stylus, and Why the First-Year Seminar Matters: Helping Students Choose a Career Path with Theresa Orosz, published by Rowman and Littlefield. She authored Engaging Faculty in Guided Pathways: A Practical Resource for College Leaders and Ensuring Learning: Supporting Faculty to Improve Student Success, both co-published by Rowman and Littlefield and the American Association of Community Colleges. She also authored a research-based first-year seminar textbook Student Success in College: Doing What Works! published 4th edition by Cengage. She is frequently invited to give plenary presentations at national and local conferences as well as at colleges and universities across the nation.