What's the Big Idea? | TTLL Season 1, Episode 2

Jun 21, 2022, 09:00 AM by Bob Dignan

Listen to the Episode

Transcript available here.



Episode Description

In this episode, Cheelan Bo-Linn (CITL) and Yilan Xu (ACES) join host Bob Dignan to unpack the graphic syllabus. A misnomer of sorts, the graphic syllabus doesn’t focus on classroom policies and procedures, due dates, and a wordy course description, which can create a disconnect with students. Instead, it visually lays out the main learning objective the instructor wants students to get out of the course – or what Bo-Linn calls “the Big Idea” – and how they will go about learning it. It also helps set the tone for the class. 


“It’s more like a tool to help you rethink what’s the most important thing in your class and how you organize all your materials around it,” says Xu, who worked with Bo-Linn to drill down to the Big Idea of her Retirement Benefits Planning course and create an interactive, evolving graphic, which the class revisits throughout the semester to see where they, how far they’ve come, and what’s to come. 

Xu outlines the process she used and a few iterations of her Big Idea, and Bo-Linn provides some creative examples from instructors in other disciplines. 

“I would hope it would be an inspiration to encourage faculty members to just try this,” says Xu, who also reports what students think about it. 


Did you enjoy this episode, or do you have a story to share about your experience with creating a graphic syllabus or another teaching topic? Drop us a note at


This podcast was produced by the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning at the University of Illinois. Episodes can be found on our website,, and major podcast platforms. We hope you’ll find us there and join the conversation! 


About the guests 

Cheelan Bo-Linn is a senior specialist in education at the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning. 


Yilan Xu is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. 


Other resources 

See pre- and post-iterations of the Big Idea or graphic syllabi to 2 courses.  


Read about interactive syllabi in this Faculty Focus article, “A Supportive Syllabus: What Students Say About an Interactive Syllabus.” 


Read about innovative syllabus options in this Faculty Focus article, “Revisiting the Syllabus”. 

Read more here: The Syllabus Reconstructed: An Analysis of Traditional and Visual Syllabi for information Retention and Inclusiveness