Syllaweb Workshop

Teaching and Learning Center
College of DuPage
Winter Quarter, 2001

Goals Design Resources

What Is a Syllaweb?

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At its best, a Syllaweb is far more than simply a web-published version of a print and paper syllabus.  Moving course materials online naturally entails reconsidering teaching goals and procedures, redesigning assignments and documents to take best advantage of the medium, and focusing on how to apply the medium's features to facilitate student learning.   "Syllaweb," then, is more than a combination of "syllabus" and "web."  Rather, the term encapsulates a new gestalt:  the ways in which networks and computers both extend and transform teaching and learning.

and Why Might I Want One?

Syllawebs are a crucial element of all Online Distance Education (DE) classes, of course, but even in traditional face-to-face (f2f  classes and classes that combine traditional classroom meetings with sessions in the micromputer lab, syllawebs offer both teachers and students many advantages.  For instance, syllawebs can

Extend the Learning Arena Beyond the Spatial and Temporal Boundaries of the Traditional Classroom:  Syllawebs often incorporate guides to synchronous and asynchronous discussion tools (e.g. chat spaces or threaded message boards),  interactive assignments with links to suggestions for further reading and research, and links to reference tools like dictionaries, thesauruses, or citation and documentation guidelines.  Discussion tools make it possible for students to interact with both the teacher and each other throughout the quarter, not only when class is in session.   Further, many have noted that students who are reluctant to ask questions or contribute to discussions in class find it easier to forge mutually satisfying connections with their teachers and peers online.   Links to readings and references bring the concepts and skills of a course to life for students so that they can, for instance, open a link in one window even as they apply its ideas or guidelines to an assignment they are working on in another. Taken together, all of these features empower students to act both more independently and more collaboratively.

Make a Wider Variety of Resources Immediately Available:  None of us can be expert at everything, and no one is available all of the time.  Syllawebs offer both students and teachers access to other experts and their materials. For instance, rather than fielding every inquiry about internet hoaxes and viruses, I would probably direct students to The San Fernando Valley Folklore Society's Urban Legends Reference Pages to investigate the veracity of currently circulating rumors for themselves.  Similarly, if a student struggling with sentence fragments asked for a guide or a worksheet to help in understanding and eliminating the problem, I'd likely direct her to some of the materials available at Purdue University's Online Writing Lab (OWL). Of course, syllawebs also offer us the opportunity to highlight resources available to students right here at College of DuPage, including The Skills Development CenterThe Writing Center, and The Library.  As Communications teachers, we often do develop close relationships with our students, introducing them not only to college-level academic reading and writing, but also, in a sense, to the overall college experience.  A thoughtfully designed syllaweb can become another means of helping our students develop the ability successfully to negotiate all of their new opportunities and responsibilities.

Emphasize the Logic of a Course's Sequence of Assignments, as Well as the Logic of a Sequence of Courses:  Teachers sometimes despair that students seem to forget recently hard won skills and knowledge as they undertake each new assignment.  Students, the complaint goes, approach each activity as a discrete unit, failing to connect the units to one another, or to recognize that they are interconnected for a reason.  A well-designed syllaweb won't automatically solve this problem, but it does offer a means of addressing it directly.  For instance, an assignment calling for critical synthesis might deliberately not only remind students of their previous work on critical reading and summary, but directly link them to an overview of the key skills and concepts that earlier work entailed.  When teachers publish more that one syllaweb, develop a comprehensive syllaweb encompassing all of their courses, or simply link to each other's sites, they can similarly highlight the relationships among courses in a sequence, emphasizing how 102 flows from 101, and how 103 builds on skills developed in 102.

Relieve Students and Teachers of Some of the Paper Burden:  Students often forget or misplace syllabi, assignment sheets, rubrics, and the like, as do (at least, I hope I'm not the only one!) teachers.  Syllawebs prevent teachers from having to keep multiple copies of all relevant paper work always at hand, and they prevent both students and teachers from having to interrupt progress because of a handout left on the car seat or the kitchen table.  Although I doubt anyone would ever call this relief one of the main attractions of webbed materials, it is nonetheless an appealing practical advantage.

Broaden Opportunities for Forging Professional Relationships: I made my very first syllaweb, which I not so very creatively called "EnglishWeb," several years ago when I wanted a home page and basic class pages to support and extend what my students and I were doing with Connect.Net in the composition classroom.  Eventually, it also grew to include other elements, such as a section on assessment, which absorbed me at the time.   It is, I think it's safe to say, not the world's best web; nonetheless, I've kept it online even as I've moved on to newer versions and different projects.  Once or twice every month,  I receive a thank note from some teacher or another who has stumbled across that rudimentary web and found something of use in it.  More recent efforts, including both my current pages and some professional and creative explorations I've tinkered with, make similarly wonderful openings for comparing notes and forging positive relationships with online teachers across the country.  I've come to think of this mesh of relationships as the best of what "computer network" can mean.   Stridently expressed reservations and outright fears about the allegedly isolating, literacy-eroding aspects of online interaction are commonplace, but they fail, it seems to me, to flow from understanding and experience of this very warm and human aspect of teaching, learning, working, and networking online.

Goals Design Resources

Copyright 2000-2001,  Kathy A. Fitch
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