August 6, 2014

Graphic syllabus and outcomes map – new additions to your fall syllabus?

Posted by Laura Guertin

Graphic syllabus = a one-page diagram, flowchart, or concept map of the topical organization of a course.

Outcomes map = a one-page flowchart of the sequence of student learning objectives and outcomes from the foundational through the mediating to the ultimate.

—  Nilson (2007)

Each semester, and for every course we teach, we are required to create a course syllabus.  Each of our institutions have some variations as to what content is required in the syllabus, from office hours to the ISBN number of our required textbooks.  There are many articles and resources online that provide suggestions on how to create and improve our syllabi, such as:

Syllabus from Principles of Macroeconomics: The Online Version (access at

Syllabus from Principles of Macroeconomics: The Online Version (access at

Although our syllabi seem to be getting longer and longer each year with more and more required material (mine are coming close to 20 pages in length), have you tried adding one more component to your syllabus – a graphic component?  A graphic syllabus shows the organization of and interrelationships among course topics.  The outcomes map can then help students make connections not only within a course but between other courses and their own lives. (Click here to see three examples of graphic course outlines from philosophy courses)  For those already familiar with concept mapping, a graphic syllabus and outcomes map should be a logical format to help faculty have tighter course organization and clearly define the enduring understandings we want our students to have.

Why supplement (not replace) a traditional syllabus with a graphic syllabus?

  • A graphic can provide a visual to help students see the “big picture” of how a course is organized, instead of just showing students a linear format/structure as presented in a text-only syllabus.
  • Students may actually look at the graphic, instead of being uninspired to read through a syllabus filled with university policies, dates and deadlines that they feel are far in their future.
  • The graphic can clearly articulate for students the connections between course content and in-class/take-home assignments, that the course work is not just “busy work.”

I have been tempted to add a graphic component to my syllabus – but I am also thinking that this might be an interesting exercise to do with students at the very end of the semester.  By asking students to “map” out my student learning objectives with our course activities, it might help reinforce the connections I was making all semester between concepts – and for students that missed those connections the first time, this would be the final opportunity to make that happen!

Another example of a graphical syllabus, from an engineering course at Clemson University (from Google eBook preview)

Another example of a graphic syllabus, from an engineering course at Clemson University (from Google eBook preview).

 (*I haven’t seen an example of a graphic syllabus from a geoscience course yet – anyone have one to share?)



Additional sources for exploration

Hara, B. (2010, October 19).  Graphic Display of Student Learning Objectives.  The Chronicle of Higher Education – ProfHacker [blog post].  (Available online)

Jones, J.B. (2011, August 26). Creative approaches to the syllabus. The Chronicle of Higher Education – ProfHacker [blog post]. (Available online)

Nilson, N.B. (2007).  The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  ISBN: 978-0-470-18085-3. (Preview in Google Books) (Book review in The National Teaching & Learning Forum)

Weimer, M. (2012, May 2).  A Graphic Syllabus Can Bring Clarity to Course Structure.  Faculty Focus – The Teaching Professor Blog [blog post].  (Available online).