August 20, 2023

Making your syllabus liquid

Posted by Laura Guertin

The Fall 2023 semester is about to begin for some institutions of higher education, while others still have a bit of breathing room to prepare their courses. This preparation includes the syllabus. There’s an easy, effective way instructors can generate a welcoming environment before the semester begins, as well as increase the accessibility of the syllabus throughout the semester. This is with something called a liquid syllabus.

A liquid syllabus is designed to humanize you and your course to students and present information in a mobile-friendly format. This is a short video from Online Network of Educators goes into a bit more detail of what a liquid syllabus is and how it benefits students.

When I first heard the phrase “liquid syllabus,” I have to admit I thought the name was referring to changing your syllabus as the semester continues on – you know, going with the flow of how your students and course were progressing. But that’s not the case. And learning more about a liquid syllabus has helped move me from thinking that creating a course video trailer [see AGU blog post] and putting a PDF version of my syllabus in my course management system was sufficient. I have learned much from exploring Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s resources on the how and why of a liquid syllabus, and she even has a self-paced public Canvas course on Creating a Liquid Syllabus. From defining expectations to reducing anxieties to creating a welcoming and supportive environment before the start of the semester, a liquid syllabus can help humanize me as their geoscience professor and jumpstart a connection.

Check out these examples of a liquid syllabus. Knowing that more and more of my students are accessing course content on their mobile devices, I appreciate how this liquid syllabus for a biology course uses Google Sites, which easily displays on multiple devices (here’s another Google Sites example – and another!). Adobe Express can also be used to create a liquid syllabus, and most WordPress templates (be sure to check your selected template is responsive to mobile devices).

Interested in learning more? An extensive resource page has been put together by Penn State University. Pacansky-Brock has published an open source paper in 2021 titled The liquid syllabus: An anti-racist teaching element. And there are several recorded seminars posted in YouTube on the liquid syllabus. Even if your semester has already begun, it’s not too late to create a liquid syllabus to have this important document accessible to all students throughout an entire semester.