CITL Teaching and Learning News: April 9, 2024

Apr 10, 2024, 09:32 AM
CITL Teaching and Learning News April 9, 2024
Click here to see this online

Instructor Voices

  art of teaching speakers image

Balance: Creating Course Policies Through Student Co-Creation of Syllabus Guidelines

How many times have you told a student “It’s in the syllabus!”? Often we create course policies and design our syllabus with ourselves in mind: our time, our capacity, our needs as instructors. However, our course policies also affect our students, and can often conflict with their time, capacity, and needs for learning. This runs the risk of students disengaging with our course and putting in minimum effort. How can we minimize this detachment? Melissa Iverson (Social Work) recommends finding opportunities in your course policies for co-creation of course expectations, including due dates, deadlines, and how to handle extensions. It’s a balancing act, Iverson mentions, to balance the needs and capacity of students with your own need for academic rigor and capacity.

In this Art of Teaching presentation, Iverson talks about her experiences revamping and changing her approach to syllabi and course policies to create opportunities for encounter and collaboration in her courses, leading to a learning environment built on trust, accountability, and rapport. She also gives tips and examples of passages from her syllabi that help to shape student expectations of her role and what support she can give them in learning. 


CITL Announcements


CITL Teaching Certificate Deadline is April 15

If you are pursuing one of CITL's teaching certificates, the deadline for finishing the requirements this year is Monday, April 15. If you don't submit your application by April 15, all of your progress still counts, and you have until next April to finish the remainder of the requirements. Check out the FAQs for information that may answer some questions you currently have. The certificate deadline may be extended to April 17 for those needing to attend the "Embedding Digital Literacy in Your Course" workshop to complete their workshop requirement.

List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students

The Fall 2023 List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students is now available. If your course is missing, check your instructor report against the criteria in the list. At least five students must have completed the relevant item(s) and you must have released your name and course for inclusion on the list if you qualify. For questions or corrections, please email or call 217-244-3846.

Save the Dates for CITL Summer Offerings

Lucas Anderson, Jordan Leising, and the CITL Graduate Affiliates will be bringing back the annual CITL Course Design Series in June. This 8-workshop series introduces participants to backward course design, then uses backward design principles to guide participants through the crucial elements of their course design, from setting course objectives, to choosing appropriate assessments and learning activities, all the way through establishing course policies and creating a syllabus, with special attention to issues of inclusive teaching. Workshops will be in-person at the Armory building on Tuesdays and Thursdays from June 18-June 27.

Also, CITL Grad Affiliate Kathleen McGowan will be running a reading group on James Lang's Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. This excellent book helps you make small, immediate changes to your teaching that can have a big impact on your students' learning. The reading group will run Tuesdays and Thursdays from June 11-June 20.

More information about both programs, including links to register, will be coming in a future newsletter.


Workshops and Events


Canvas Open Office Hours
Recurring: every Thursday, 11 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Host: CITL Instructional Support Team

How Motivation Works
Thursday, April 11, 7 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Zoom (Registration Link)
Host: Lucas Anderson (CITL)

Embedding Digital Literacy in Your Course
Wednesday, April 17, 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.
Zoom (Registration Link)
Host: David Favre (CITL)

Stay tuned for this semester's events! Bookmark the CITL Event Calendar for all upcoming workshops and the Training Services (formerly FAST3) Calendar for additional training opportunities.


UDL Tip of the Month

  A student holding the sign, "The Syllabus was OVERWHELMING!"

How to UDL-ify Your Syllabus: Engagement

This is the first in a three-article series of UDL Tips focused on applying UDL principles to your syllabus. Some people think they can only use UDL principles in the classroom or the online course, but it is not necessarily so. UDL principles are designed to apply to any situation beyond the classroom or online course, such as the syllabus. The syllabus is an important document that cannot be ignored or overlooked; some instructors lament that their students don't pay attention to their syllabus or don't understand why some students complain that the syllabus is too complex to follow or overwhelming. Some students get turned off or offended by the tone or language.

You'll be surprised how easy it is to improve (or UDL-ify) your syllabus using the UDL principle of Engagement to increase students' interaction and motivation with the syllabus's contents and choices for learning opportunities.

Before we analyze or scrutinize the syllabus, we need to understand its "dynamics" and how it affects your students' perception in a positive or negative light. You want your syllabus to give a positive first impression the first time to motivate your students to do well in your course. The dynamics involve a contract, instructional tool, course climate, and first-time impression. The syllabus is more than just a document; it's a contract, a binding agreement between the instructor and students. Students need to recognize this and take it seriously, as it sets the framework for the course and their responsibilities.

Use plain language instead of contractual language to communicate so they understand and use the information to meet their goals. Plain language means to communicate “with clear wording, structure, and design for the intended audience to easily:

  • find what they need
  • understand what they find
  • use that information.[1]

Secondly, the syllabus should be treated as an instructional tool; it guides students' learning as they read the syllabus. There should be no guesswork if the instructions are not clearly stated or if the acronyms or abbreviations are not understood. Spell out the term and add the acronym or abbreviation at the end of the term for the first time, e.g., anthropology (ANTH). After that, use the abbreviation. Thirdly, course climate always starts with the syllabus because it sets the tone for the entire semester; the use of inclusive language or tone is critical for retaining students. It is about being respectful and nonjudgmental, creating a safe and positive learning environment for everyone involved. Look for any assumptions or attitudes you have about your students and work on removing them and making it more inclusive. Lastly, the syllabus's first impression either makes it or breaks it. It hinges on how you use the language or tone. Is it:

  • cold or warm?
  • commanding or inviting?
  • paternalistic or cooperative[2]?

For more information, read Rhetoric in the footnote. It's natural for everyone to want to pass the first impression. The syllabus should be the priority to ensure it passes the first impression before sharing or posting it in class.

Consider the dynamics, such as contractual language, clear instructions, course climate policy, etc., in your course syllabus and see how to make it more interactive and motivational. Make it engaging. Ask your colleague to review your syllabus or survey your class for suggestions or ideas at the end of the semester. You can contact CITL's Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Team for consultation regarding your syllabus; you can reach us at Look for next month's article focused on applying the principle of multiple modes of representation to your syllabus.

Image credit: Seattle Central College. (October 12, 2011). Universal Design. Retrieved from

[1] Accessible Syllabus. Rhetoric. Retrieved from

[2] Center for Plain Language. Five Steps to Plain Language. Retrieved from

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter