Syllabus Theme Update

As we move toward the enactment of syllabus themes for ICaP courses in Fall 2019, we wanted to offer an update on the future and a recap of some of the work we have done to prepare for this transition.

In Fall 2018, ICaP administrative staff began exploring new options for English 106/108 curricula. With the changes to staffing, mentoring, and the courses themselves over the past few years, the syllabus approach structure had become unsustainable. As a solution, the ICaP staff proposed a new structure, syllabus themes, to the members of the Pedagogical Initiatives Committee (PIC). As development went forward, we held two public discussion forums about developments on themes. These forums helped us identify proposed changes to PIC to make that committee more sustainable in the future.

For instructors, changes should be manageable—even minimal. We welcome your continued feedback as we make this transition.


Under the syllabus approach system, each individual approach was managed by a leadership team of two instructors, who were responsible for maintaining document repositories for each approach, keeping a census of approach members, running occasional workshops, recruiting, and filing renewal paperwork when the approach came up for review. This workload varied from approach to approach  and brought with it some issues in that information passed from leadership team to leadership team was often inconsistent, and managing documents was difficult. Approach members would at times not turn in documents, or remove documents from shared resources without warning. Not all approach members were even aware of document repositories.

The Pedagogical Initiatives Committee (PIC) was formed from approach leadership. However, scheduling instructors for regular meetings was proving more and more difficult. A leaner, more efficient committee seemed a better solution, but there was no easy way to achieve that with the approach structure.

Many of these difficulties stemmed from the shrinking size of our graduate program.  As the face of the department began to change—and mentoring with it—ICaP found it hard to staff all the syllabus approaches. The system was more easily sustainable when there were more people to shoulder the workload. But  with dramatically fewer staff, a full slate of ten syllabus approach leaders constitutes about 20% of ICaP staff, whereas before, PIC members represented less than 10% percent, even taking into account the higher number of approaches we maintained at that time.

With higher numbers of contingent faculty, too, the syllabus approach structure presented an obstacle to instructors teaching in ICaP for the first time. We now have more contingent labor responsible for multiple courses than ever before. In short, ICaP needs a system that is easier to manage and that instructors can more easily engage.

Theme Structures

In Fall 2019, we will be shifting to a theme-based structure for all ICaP courses, and moving to a centralized document repository of readings, syllabi, assignments, and more, rather than individualized document hubs for different groups of instructors. All ICaP instructors will have equal access to these resources, which will be organized by the ICaP Assistant Director in cooperation with ICAP assistant mentors. While our themes may change in the future as we continue to develop this new system, for now, our themes for 2019-2020 are:

  • Academic Rhetorics
  • Digital Rhetorics
  • Public and Cultural Rhetorics
  • Rhetorics of Narrative
  • Rhetorics of Science and Medicine
  • Rhetorics of Data Science

(Not sure how to select a theme? Let us help! And make sure you are planning with and around the common portfolio assignment for 2019-2020.)

Choosing these themes was a challenge. We wanted to preserve instructor autonomy and choice while simultaneously offering transparency and, we hope, choices for the students. Our eventual goal is to ensure themes are visible for students at registration. The ICaP team, in choosing the original, larger pool of themes, considered a number of other factors as well—student and instructor interests, program partnerships, and thematic programs in other universities. We wanted variety, but not too many themes. So, early in the process, we realized that tying themes to particular colleges or majors, while appealing in some ways, introduces too many logistical issues. Themes would then have to be scaled up and down to match changes in  student numbers across colleges and departments.

The themes we have chosen are broad enough that if we want to link courses for learning communities or particular programs in the future, we can explore those possibilities without introducing a new theme, simply by enacting these themes in different ways. Over the next year, we are excited to see how instructors use theme, and we look forward to feedback.

Under the new system, PIC will be comprised of the ICaP Assistant Director and two elected representatives from GradSEA. The committee  will be primarily responsible for updating the new centralized document repository and bringing instructor concerns to the director. This new charge will be less laborintensive, both in terms of numbers and labor, and is a more sustainable structure for the future.

Again, for instructors, not much should change. We have selected and designed the themes for ease of transition for instructors, and indeed, two of the new themes align with the two largest syllabus approaches. The bulk of this change will not occur now, for current instructors, but rather in the future, for incoming instructors, who will be presented with a more streamlined system as they adjust to teaching in ICaP.

This new system, however, does offer a few small changes, such as a reduced need for syllabus meetings during convocation, allowing more time for other forms of professional development. The new PIC structure, too, should allow for committee members to get more hands-on opportunities to help shape the future of ICaP without introducing an unnecessary burden of individual organization.

Looking Ahead

We have released the first part of the centralized document repository and will present the full first iteration by the end of Spring 2019, so that instructors will have plenty of time to prep for fall courses. We would love your contributions of effective assignments and activities. if you have anything you would like to share, please send links or files to Alisha Karabinus.

We also welcome your questions and comments on these changes. To offer feedback or get help, reach out to any member of the ICaP staff.