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Utah State Develops Open Source Syllabus

Colleges and faculty seeking a streamlined way to develop higher education syllabi may want to become test pilots in an open source project under development at Utah State University's Center for Innovative Design & Instruction. A team led by Product Development Manager George Joeckel III is creating Salsa, a Web-based application that instructors can use to create "styled & accessible learning service agreements."

"Salsa is for institutions that see the value of Web-accessible syllabi that contain complete information regarding student rights and responsibilities," Joeckel explained.

The overall goal is to help faculty develop learning outcomes for their courses derived from concepts out of Bloom's taxonomy. Verbs that characterize "analysis," for example, include:

  • Analyze;
  • Appraise;
  • Breakdown;
  • Calculate; and
  • Compare.

"Research-based best practices are 'baked in' to Salsa," said Joeckel. "For example, instructors are assisted with writing measurable learning outcomes by starting with an action verb. He or she selects from one of five sets of action verbs organized by the cognitive levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create."

What's intriguing about the program is that it doesn't require any registration up front. The instructor simply goes to the Salsa site and chooses to "create a Salsa." He or she fills in basic course information, then specifies outcomes, resources, activities, polices, grades and schedule. The faculty member can save changes as the work progresses and then preview it or publish the syllabus to generate a unique random URL that can be provided to students. When they visit the hyperlink, they get a read-only PDF document.

Another major aspect of the software is that the format used by the authoring tool also ensures that the learning service agreements comply with Federal accessibility standards. "Salsa promotes documents that are 508-compliant because accessibility is a core design and development requirement for our project — not an afterthought," Joeckel said. "We've created a tool that does not require instructors to be Web accessibility experts in order to provide students with a learning agreement that meets ADA requirements."

Because Utah State is an Instructure Canvas user, it has been programmed to be imported into that learning management system.

"The scope and quantity of higher education learning options is growing exponentially," Joeckel noted. "Institutions that require a students to make significant investments of time and money based on incomplete information may find themselves marginalized. Salsa guides an instructor through the process of creating a syllabus that is targeted to today's hybrid and online learning environments. A 'styled and accessible learning service agreement' allows a student to make an informed decision based upon an expanded set of course information: pedagogy, format, policies, etc."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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