Librarians and the Interactive Syllabus

When you think of a syllabus, what comes to mind? A schedule and list of requirements for a class? Something that is handed out on the first day of class and does not change for the entire semester?

Well, the interactive syllabus is very different from that. It’s a web-based, resource-based tool for learning. It’s a constructivist approach that scaffolds resources into task assignments. It allows the learner to “go beyond the information given (Bruner).” It’s a work in progress that changes to meet the needs of the students throughout the semester. It can be be developed within an LMS, or built as a separate web site. It often appears in table format and includes links to readings and resources under each week’s task. Here’s an example:

In my opinion, this is one of the best ways for librarians and faculty to collaborate on the integration of information literacy skills across an entire course. Librarians are the gurus of source selection (yes we are!), and the interactive syllabus is a natural extension of what librarians do best – match resources with information needs. These resources can include tutorials and guides along with additional information. The most important thing though is that the resources provide only the information needed to facilitate the completion of the task. For example, you would not link to a LibGuide, you would link to a specific source. And generally, you would not link to an entire database (unless the assignment required it). Instead, you might link to a source or set of sources within a database.

The interactive syllabus is inherently a scaffolding tool. Scaffolding is related to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) concept as a way to support the needs of the learner. Scaffolding is also a way to manage cognitive load, and one of the best practices in designing online learning environments.

The interactive syllabus is a another reason for librarians to be involved in the instructional design process. If interactive syllabi are not the “norm” at your institution, why not offer workshops on the benefits of them? It would be a great opportunity to connect with more faculty across campus.


Richards, S. L. (2003). The interactive syllabus: A resource-based, constructivist approach to learningThe Technology Source.


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