Transitioning to Syllabus Themes

Welcome to the information hub for ICaP’s exploratory measures on shifting from syllabus approaches as pedagogical frames into themes for curricular course structures. Here you’ll find information on what’s happening, proposed themes, and answers to questions we’ve been asked as we develop these new frameworks for ICaP.

What is happening? ICaP is exploring a shift from the current syllabus approaches (which provide a pedagogical foundation and grounding for an individual course) to a thematic approach (shifting from the pedagogical framework to a thematic frame that impacts content more than the assignments).

Why are we making a change? Currently, with reduced numbers of ICaP classes and mentor groups for incoming TAs, several syllabus approaches teeter constantly on the brink of dissolution. If our program is reduced to 2-3 approaches, instructors lose much of the autonomy that has been a hallmark of our program. Further, with more LTLs and visiting instructors, we need a system that’s easier to transition into – and our solution is these thematic organizing principles for ICaP classes. We’re also working on methods for making the themes visible to students when they sign up, so they know what ICaP courses are available.

Who will be impacted? All ICaP instructors, potential instructors, faculty, and staff will be affected as we work on centralized document hubs (banks of readings and assignments for instructors who want to make changes). Once we make the switch, the previous syllabus approaches will cease to exist.

When will this happen? We are piloting two courses in Spring 2019 and expect all ICaP instructors to make the shift by Fall 2019, so all necessary infrastructure will be in place going into Summer 2019.

How will I need to change my course? That’s up to you. At minimum, you’ll have to choose a theme and adjust the language on your syllabus. You may need to adjust a few readings or supplemental materials to ensure your course is within theme. If you want, you can make more changes. Instead of individual folders for each syllabus approach (which too many people don’t even seem to know about!) or scattered information passed around to some and not others, we are designing a centralized hub of assignments, activities, readings, and sample course structures from which instructors can pull at need. We do not anticipate much change in approved textbooks at this time, but if you want to pilot something new, there are procedures for that. Talk with us about it!

The proposed themes are a work in progress, but here’s the current list:

  • Academic Rhetorics – focused on situating students within the writing of the academy
  • Digital Rhetorics – with a particular focus on digital compositions and how they function in an increasingly complex, technological world
  • Public and Cultural Rhetorics – a theme dedicated to the analysis of public and cultural discourses
  • Rhetorics of Narrative – an exploration of how narrative drives communication and composition
  • Rhetorics of Science and Medicine – a focus on the natural sciences and/or health
  • Rhetorics of Data Science – a specialized theme for the learning communities in partnership with engineering

These focus areas are designed to be broad and inclusive themes instructors can enact in creative ways. For instance, one of the pilot instructors is using Rhetorics of Narrative and focusing on different essays forms – the ways in which we tell stories. Another instructor might rely heavily on fiction and longform research essay forms while another looks at journalism, data narratives, and mainstream reportage of research. Another instructor might engage with science fiction to organize a course around the ways we use narrative to help engage social problems and consider the future. All these courses could be easily housed within the Rhetorics of Narrative theme, and the assignments and how they are enacted are up to the instructor (so long as the meet the GMOs for ICaP).

Some Common Questions & Answers

What WON’T change?

Most things will remain the same or similar: we will still encourage instructors to rely on scaffolded assignment sequences (and we will have a number of examples for you), and we’ll still be relying on the ICaP outcomes to guide curriculum design and pedagogy. Our list of vetted textbooks will be adjusted for recommended texts for various themes, but ICaP instructors will still be required to teach from, a rhetoric textbook. We will still be conducting semester-based syllabus reviews to ensure all syllabi meet basic program requirements. We will still be working on ongoing program assessment.

Will instructors be trained for this change?

Not much will be necessary; instructors will need to remove some language from current syllabi, add a little about the themes, and most courses will be easily transferred. This is a change more geared toward new instructors and the future of the program than a shake-up for current instructors.  However, for those instructors who’d like to change their courses, we will have a bank of readings, assignments, activities, and even sample classes you can pull from in preparing for the new themes.

What do we need from you?

We need questions, feedback, ideas for themes (we are considering adding one more). We need contributions of assignment sheets and activities. We need yearly volunteers to help maintain these archives, now that we will no longer have syllabus approach leaders. If you have assignment sheets and activities you’d like to contribute, we’d love to collect them for our document bank.

How will this impact our ongoing assessment efforts?

The syllabus approach reboot is happening as part of assessment efforts and we will continue to update in terms of common assignments as we work through assessing what’s been turned in.

Will this change mentoring? Will we still have mentoring?

Yes, new instructors will still go through mentoring; mentoring is a vital part of ICaP. Structurally, this change will not much impact the program, beyond making it more fluid and more transparent for students. Mentors will choose a theme the way they’ve chosen syllabus approaches in the past.

How will instructors choose their themes? Will anyone be able to select any of the  themes?

For the first year, we are not planning to restrict instructor choices; we are interested in gathering data about which themes are most popular and most effective. Our goal with this new system, too, is to make it easier for instructors to move between different themes; rather than changing an entire course, to move from one theme to another, instructors may only have to adjust readings and focus areas. After the first year, we may work out systems for selection of themes, similar to selecting teaching preferences, but we’ll release details as we work out the logistics.