A course syllabus introduces both you and the subject to your students; communicates your goals and expectations; serves as official notice to students about course policies and requirements; and functions as a good learning tool. Like a blueprint for a building, a syllabus helps you build a course that is well thought out and organized. Details are carefully planned and not haphazardly tacked on at the last minute.
Advantages of a Good Syllabus
A well-designed syllabus benefits you and your students in a number of ways.
It requires you to think about the course and to organize early.
You must review and order books and other materials; determine course content and organization, assigned readings, and projects; then work it all into the semester's schedule. Developing a well-organized course is a lot of work, but once done, you have a clear plan for the semester(s) ahead.
It helps students understand why they are in the class and how the course fits into their educational plans.
Students, especially in the first two years, are required to take a number of courses for which they may have little interest and motivation because they may not understand why they must take them or how these courses will contribute to their overall educational experience. By explaining the course rationale, your syllabus can help them make connections with the rest of the curriculum.
It communicates your expectations.
When students know what to expect, they can plan their own work for the semester. This is particularly important to students when several of their courses have projects or exams close together.
It establishes class policies, assignments and deadlines.
Because the syllabus is a written document and it is retained by the student, a syllabus can eliminate misunderstandings and clarify policies, thus reducing student confusion and the incidence of the allegation, "You never told us…" Think of your syllabus as a contract between you and each student. You expect each student to abide by the guidelines put forth, and promise to extend earned rewards at the end of the course. Students can expect that the guidelines put forth will not change mid-course.
It gives relevant information.
The syllabus conveys important information about the course to prospective students, the department office, and colleagues.
It helps establish the classroom climate.
The tone of your syllabus is very important. Your choice of words can communicate your concern for students…or portray you as rigid and indifferent. Because the syllabus is the first written communication students receive from you, they tend to scrutinize it carefully to get a feeling for you as an instructor and your course expectations. Do not use upper case or underlining for emphasis. Instead, use boldface type or italics—sparingly. Examine your syllabus from the perspective of your students. Does it clearly and efficiently communicate necessary information about the course, assignments, exams, due dates? Does it specify required books (don't forget edition numbers!) and necessary materials, with expected costs? Is the language gender-neutral as possible? Will all students understand the expressions and abbreviations used?
Information to Include in a Syllabus
University bylaws require instructors to "inform students concerning the requirements, standards, objectives and evaluation procedures at the beginning of each course." Instructors should convey this information to students via a written syllabus. Any syllabus should also clearly communicate the instructor's name, office location, contact information, and office hours.
- Course number, section, title, number of credit hours, meeting days and times, room and building
- Instructor/TA name, title, address, phone numbers, email address, office hours, and no-call hours
- Prerequisites set for the students enrolling in the course (courses and/or skills)
- Required purchases: texts and supplies (where available and estimated price)
- Space for names and telephone numbers of at least two classmates
Course Description and Objectives
- How course fits into the student's major or general education requirements
- Description of the course: why people study this area of knowledge
- Intrinsic value of the course to the student
- Course goals and objectives, characteristics you expect the student to develop by the end of the course
- Benefits and practical applications of this course for the student
- Reasons you arranged course content in a particular order
- Course strategies: lectures, discussions, group work, labs
Grading and Course Requirements
- Grading standards, weights, and criteria for each graded component included in the final grade
- If participation is considered in assigning the course grade, how do you define and measure it?
- Course assignments and projects: purpose, due dates, format requirements or suggestions, level of research expected, approximate length, grading criteria
- What tests will evaluate: memory, understanding, ability to synthesize
- Nature of tests: multiple-choice, short answer, essay, or some combination
- Policies regarding attendance and/or participation, late assignments, make-up exams, extra credit, grades of P/N, I, and W
- Topics to be covered, in sequence, with dates
- Due dates for readings, projects, assignments, and papers
- Holidays or times when class won't meet
- Reference materials at the library or other locations and how the student should access them
- Vocabulary words (with or without definitions)
- Policy regarding academic honesty
Optional Items to Add or Incorporate
- Conditions under which the syllabus is subject to change
- List of campus resources, library policies, computer availability and policies, learning assistance policies, laboratory policies
- Descriptions of and rationale for instructional techniques you will use
- Your beliefs about your role as teacher: expert, formal authority, socializing agent, facilitator, role model, researcher, resource consultant, coach, counselor