The Syllabus & Project Assignments

The syllabus in Open Source Studio is an evolving document: published online for student access to lecture information and assignment scheduling. As a Web document, the syllabus can be updated throughout the semester to accommodate the evolution of a course as it is taught.

By: Randall Packer |

The Syllabus

While every instructor has their own way of presenting information in the form of a syllabus, this portion of the user manual explores pedagogical techniques that are specific to the medium of the Web. The OSS syllabus has been designed as a “custom post type,” which allows the instructor to organize their class content in a highly customized, organized and readable form.

The syllabus essentially is divided into four sections: (1) Summary, (2) Assignments, (3) Lecture Notes, (4) “Additional,” an optional sectional for whatever is specific to your course. The following link is an example syllabus page from my course Internet Art & Culture, which demonstrates the organization of the syllabus layout.

The following techniques are used for the creation of a syllabus, which is integrated into your OSS class site. These general suggestions assume knowledge of creating and editing a post. If you need help, refer to Creating a Post. Be sure you have already familiarized yourself with the WordPress tool editor before preceding.

Weekly Topics

The syllabus is accessed from the main menu as a feed of individual “items” or posts, generating a table of contents in the sidebar, with titles and summaries that provide an overview of each week as in the example below.

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A unique feature of the syllabus page include the links below each summary to “Assignments” and “Lecture Notes,” allowing the student to easily navigate the site for relevant information. Note also that each weekly topic includes an image. This is the featured image that is explained in Creating a Post. It is advised to use a featured image with each weekly syllabus item, otherwise this area will be blank. In order to see the full syllabus page, click on “read more.”

Creating a new Syllabus Item

Each week of a course is a created using the custom post type “Syllabus,” located in the Dashboard. First, you need to create a new syllabus item by going to the Dashboard and follow the links to Syllabus/Add New.

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Once you create a new syllabus item you will see the four sections of the syllabus. First, create a topic name and you are then ready to begin inputting your content into one of the sections. The following is a step by step procedure for each of the syllabus sections.

The Summary

The syllabus summary includes the weekly topic name, optional dates, and a summary overview as in the example below.

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In order to input text into the summary section, click on the “Summary” tab in the syllabus editor and input your text into the field as shown below, either by typing directly into the field or copying and pasting from a Word document. If the latter, be sure and click on the “paste as text” tool in the editor toolbar so it is highlighted. This will strip all Word formatting before inputting into the WordPress editor.

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Note: in order to create the date as in the above example, choose one of the headings in the editor drop down menu that has “Paragraph” as its first item. In this example, I am using “Heading 4.”

Assignments

This section of the syllabus is intended to make the weekly assignments as clear as possible to students so there is no ambiguity regarding due dates, etc. To input your assignments, click on the “Assignments” tab in the Syllabus editor and input your content as in the example below.

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Note the use of formatting to further delineate each assignment. The red due date at the top was created by using “text color” in the editor and “Heading 5.” The individual assignments (Reading, Micro-project) were subtitled with headings as well and the remainder of the text is in the standard paragraph format.

Lecture Notes

I refer to this section as a “hyperlecture,” involving the integration of hypermedia: links, images, video, etc. Contained within each week of the syllabus, I provide extensive notes and media illustration for students to read before or after a class. In this way, they can go back over what was presented in class, prepare/review material, and access relevant images and video documentation. The hyperlecture is not a document that I read in class, rather, it is the rough notes that I prepare for lecture, here published transparently as part of the open source methodology. You might also find you are sharing your lecture notes with other colleagues and potential students.

To input lecture notes, use the “Lecture Notes” tab and input your content as indicated below.

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Note that I have included a YouTube video by just inserting the link (Vimeo works the same way), a subtitle designating the name and date of an artwork, and an image below. Remember that whenever you input images, they will automatically size to the margin width. You do not need to size them further.

The extent of lecture notes is of course up to the instructor, but I find that it provides an excellent resource for students, as well as a way for those who miss class to get caught up. The online syllabus provides an excellent record of a course that can be easily copied/modified/reused for future classes, research, and scholarly projects.

Reordering Syllabus Items

It is usually necessary to reorder the syllabus once the individual items have been created. This is a simple procedure: just click on the “Reorder” button in the Syllabus section of the Dashboard as in the example below.

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The rows representing each Syllabus item can be dragged and moved around in order to change the order.

Project Assignments

While a unique Project Assignments section in your class site is optional in OSS, I find it useful to include an extended narrative explaining each project, far beyond the short descriptions used in the “Assignments” section of the Syllabus. You use standard “Posts” for each Project Assignment. The main difference from the Syllabus is that these posts are displayed as a “category feed,” meaning it is necessary to categorize each post with a category label, such as “Project Assignments.” See Setting up Categories for further information. Once you have created a post for each project assignment, labeled them with a category, you can display the category feed so that it looks like the illustration below.

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Note that the category feed also includes a sidebar table of contents, excerpted descriptions, and featured images, just like the syllabus. It is extremely useful to link to Project Assignments posts from the Syllabus “Assignments” section, so that these two essential parts of the class site are fully integrated.

The instructions for Creating a Post and Setting up Categories in the User Manual should provide you with all the information you need to create and organize your Project Assignments posts. Also, refer to  “Adding a Category Feed” in the Menu Customization section of the User Manual to add the “Project Assignments” item to the main menu of your class site.

Reordering Project Assignment Pages

Similarly to the Syllabus reordering, Project Assignment posts can be reshuffled in exactly the same way. Go to the “Reorder” button in the “Posts” section of the Dashboard as in the example below, and reorganize as necessary.

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Note that all your posts will be included here, not just those that are Project Assignments.

Conclusion

For both the Syllabus and the Project Assignments, WordPress offers a powerful way of organizing class content, such that a course essentially becomes a knowledge database. I recommend reviewing my class site Internet Art & Culture for ideas and direction on how to develop a site that effectively organizes and expands your research and teaching.