Syllabus Themes

Welcome to the information hub for ICaP’s syllabus themes for curricular course structures. Here you’ll find information on specific themes, resources for enacting those themes, and answers to questions we’ve been asked regarding the theme framework for ICaP. As a reminder, ICaP maintains a centralized hub of assignments, activities, readings, and sample course structures is available for instructors. Visit our Google Drive for sample syllabi, assignments, and readings organized by theme. Please also consider adding your own materials to the repository.

What are syllabus themes?

English 106 and 108 are offered in a variety of syllabus themes that allow instructors some ability to customize the content of their courses while respecting our standardized student learning outcomes. This structure acknowledges the diversity of our instructors and offers them opportunities to teach up-to-date courses which match their research interests and abilities. A syllabus theme is enacted through the content of the course, impacting specific assignment topics and readings. Syllabus themes do not dictate pedagogical practices, but they should direct the selection of course materials. ICaP instructors may choose from six syllabus themes:

  • Academic Rhetorics – Focused on situating students within the writing of the academy
  • Digital Rhetorics – Focused on digital compositions and how they function in an increasingly complex and connected world
  • Public and Cultural Rhetorics – Focused on analysis and evaluation of public and cultural discourses
  • Rhetorics of Narrative – Focused on how narrative drives communication and composition
  • Rhetorics of Data Science – Focused on the rhetorics of information and big (or small) data. Developed as a specialized theme for learning communities in partnership with engineering, but open for any instructor
  • Rhetorics of Science and Medicine – Focused on the natural sciences and/or health

These focus areas are designed to be broad and inclusive themes instructors can enact in creative ways. For instance, an instructor using the Rhetorics of Narrative theme might focus on different essays forms – the ways in which we tell stories. Another instructor might look at journalism, data narratives, and mainstream reportage of research. Another instructor might engage with science fiction to organize a course around the ways we use narrative to help engage social problems and consider the future. All these courses could be easily housed within the Rhetorics of Narrative theme, and the assignments and how they are enacted are up to the instructor.

How do instructors choose their themes? Is anyone able to select any of the themes?

At this time, we are not planning to restrict instructor choices; you are welcome to select any theme that sparks your interest. Instructors are free to select a different theme for each course they teach. At minimum, a change in theme will require an adjustment to the language on your syllabus and changes to a few readings or supplemental materials to ensure your course is within theme. If you want, you can make more changes.

Our goal with the syllabus theme system is to make it easier for instructors to move between different themes; rather than changing an entire course, to move from one theme to another, instructors may only have to adjust readings and focus areas. In the future, we may work out systems for selection of themes, similar to selecting teaching preferences, in order to ensure student choice in selecting a course with a particular syllabus theme. Our eventual goal is to ensure themes are visible for students at registration. For now, we are interested in gathering data about which themes are most popular and most effective.

Can instructors create their own themes?

Choosing the current themes was a challenge. We wanted to preserve instructor autonomy and choice while simultaneously offering transparency and, we hope, choices for the students. The ICaP team, in choosing syllabus themes, considered a number of factors l—student and instructor interests, program partnerships, and thematic programs in other universities. We wanted variety, but not so many themes that materials would be become difficult to sustain. Therefore, we do not anticipate allowing instructors to create additional themes at this time. Over the next year, ICaP will seek feedback from instructors and students on current syllabus themes in order to assess their relative success and support structures. If you are interested in being involved in this process, please reach out to one of the ICaP Assistant Directors.

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