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Creating a Liquid Syllabus (Can different formats of information engage students?)

It tells your students everything from when the class will meet to when the last assignment will be due. It’s the key to how a student should navigate a course, and a place for instructors to give special instructions and expectations for the course.

It’s the course syllabus—of course.

These documents range from 12 to 20+ pages and are required first-week reading for students. The problem, though, is that often students do not thoroughly read these documents, or items that may become important later in the semester are forgotten or overlooked at the time of reading.

The idea of a Liquid Syllabus is to create a format for students that will engage them and break up dense information for them to absorb more easily. They can be done in a number of ways, depending on what an instructor believes is critical for students.

Look at the hypothetical examples listed in this Liquid Syllabus primer, created using Adobe Express. Below is an explanation for the categories used in the examples.

Course Necessary

Think of “course necessary” as information that students need to get started and get engaged with material in the first week. You may consider items like a course description, student outcomes, key assignments, due dates, etc. as examples. These elements can be split out of the larger syllabus and placed in separate places and specially featured in a course shell. For example, devote a link to “Important Course Starting Information” in the course shell. Students will see this information in a clean and uncrowded context, allowing it to impress a firmer memory.

Once again, the idea of a liquid syllabus is not to replace the actual course syllabus, but to supply an alternative view for students in order to best communicate the information.


There are some items in your syllabus that are vital in maintaining course order and perhaps the sanity of the instructor. These items aren’t content related necessarily, but they are often important things for students to know on the first day. (Think attendance policies, classroom speech decorum, directions for submitting assignments, or other special course instructions.) Students can take a fresh look at this material after they have had a chance to review the course, and are able to see it in a separate window for them to assimilate best.

Boilerplate (Institutional Statements)

Some information comes with every edition of a syllabus. It can be institutional or issued from outside departments (This is likely institutional policies or statements from the university, such as ADA requests, academic integrity, etc.). This information will likely appear to students in every class syllabus they see. This information can be split out into a “Policies” section and featured for students to access and read with similar information.

What Does This Do for Students?

The liquid syllabus format gives students a chance to look at a fresh layout of important syllabus information that is not packed in the dense document format of a typical syllabus. Splitting out information, adding links or relevant graphics can help students digest vital items in the context that will help them better understand their importance.

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