What’s the Purpose of a Syllabus?
Many students will recognize the syllabus as a reference guide for a particular course. It provides them with a compendium of information that they will consult throughout the course, including: logistical information, prerequisites, the instructor’s contact information, course policies, due dates and requirements, a list of resources, and grading criteria. It outlines clearly what a student must do to be successful in the course.
The most effective syllabi not only act as a reference guide for students, but also function as an invitation to learning (Bain, What The Best College Teachers Do, 2004, p. 75). They set the tone for the course as they communicate with students about what they can expect from you, why they should take a course, and what they’ll have the opportunity to learn and learn to do while engaging in it. In this way, the syllabus acts as a “promise” as much as it is a contract.
Constructing a Syllabus: A Checklist
The syllabus checklist below outlines the important sections of effective, learner-centered syllabi. If you are new to syllabus design or looking for suggestions on how to revise your syllabus, you may wish to consider using our syllabus template. This template includes elements of effective syllabi, as well as recommended language related to University policies and resources for students. Content should be customized to fit the course, but instructors are welcome to copy any language from this document that they find suitable (this is particularly recommended for the “Resources for Students” and the “University-Wide Policies” section). Note that this template was adapted based on suggestions developed by the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Fellows (2017), and also includes updated Fall 2023 information from the provost and campus partners.
General Course Information
Department, Course Number, and Section(s)
Class Meeting Time(s) and Location(s)
- Consider adding a description of your Mode(s) of Instruction: In-person, Hyflex, Hybrid, etc.
Preferred contact information (email address, office phone number)
Office location; phone
Contact information for AIs and/or TAs or other course support staff
- Let your students know the process for attending office hours: will they be in-person? online? If online, is there a permanent Zoom link for your office hours this semester?
- Note how students should expect to hear from you in an emergency. Make it clear where they should go for updates and announcements.
Course Description and Course Goals
- Provide a course description consistent with that which appears in the course listings as well as any prerequisites for taking the course.
- You may also provide more detailed information about the course that will help students feel “invited” into the learning experience. You might answer the following questions: How will taking the course prepare students for future learning and/or professional work? How will the learning they will engage in during this course connect to their lives outside of the course? How will the course prepare students to be an engaged citizens of the world and their local communities?
- Consider listing 4-6 student-centered course goals or learning objectives. Objectives generally answer the question: What should your students learn or be able to do as a result of participating successfully in your course? Identify modes of thinking and transferable skills when possible. The best constructed goals are specific, measurable, and attainable.
Texts, Materials, and Supplies
- List required and non-required texts including: title, author, ISBN #, edition, and where each text can be purchased, borrowed from, or found (e.g. Canvas course page).
- List all required materials or equipment (e.g. lab notebooks, specific calculators, safety equipment, supplies) and where to find these items.
- Include information about any required field trips or class events that have an additional cost or that will occur outside of regular class time.
- Note how students should plan to access any digital course content.
- Consider a statement indicating free or reduced-cost options that exist for obtaining course materials. Further, encourage students to speak with you if they experience logistical challenges in obtaining materials or participating in required experiences such as field trips or off-campus meetings.
- Provide a statement of your grading approach or philosophy that explains why you grade the way you do and offers some detail about how you will assess student work.
- Provide a grading scale (e.g. 90-100 A) and a breakdown of how much each individual assignment or group of assignments is worth in terms of the overall grade. Make it clear to students if you are using a points system or percentages.
- Indicate your policy on late work, missed exams, and regrading. Regrading is especially important to clarify if you have AIs or TAs that will be grading in the course.
- Provide a statement on academic integrity. This might include pertinent definitions (e.g. plagiarism), information about when collaboration is authorized, information about what appropriate collaboration looks like for various activities or assignments, and expectations for where and when content from the course is to be shared or not shared. Also consider including information about the consequences for an academic integrity infraction and links to further information about school academic integrity policies.
Assignments & Homework
- Describe each graded component in enough detail that students reading will have a general understanding of the amount of and type of work required. Include information about the assignment’s purpose. Example:
Exams: There are three in-class exams that will allow you to demonstrate your learning on each of the three course units. Exam format will be short answer and essay questions and they will cover material from each respective unit. In addition, the Unit 3 exam will contain a cumulative essay portion. I will provide you with a study guide before each exam, but students who do well do not wait until getting the guide to begin studying.
- Describe what students will be required to do to prepare for class and/or complete weekly homework. Include information here about “best practices” for maximizing their learning (e.g. attending study sessions, taking good notes).
Attendance, Participation, and Classroom Climate
- Describe your attendance policy. Particular attention should be paid to describing how illness/quarantine will be handled.
- Describe the function of classroom participation within the context of your course as well as your expectations for how students should participate. Explain whether participation is required and how it will be assessed. Example:
Discussion and participation are a major emphasis in this course. This means that it is your responsibility to come to class ready and willing to take part in group knowledge building. Your in-class participation grade for this class will be primarily based upon the small group work and activities that we do in class. This grade will also reflect your level of investment in classroom discussion and how often you bring required materials to class. I will provide you with a provisional participation grade at three checkpoints during the semester.
- Consider describing what students should do if they or their loved ones get sick and they are unable to fully participate in the class.
- Explain your policy for students using technology in the classroom.
- Consider including ground rules for appropriate classroom interactions, as well as a clear statement of expectations that classroom interactions will remain civil, respectful, and supportive. You may wish to draw language from the Standing Committee on Facilitating Inclusive Classrooms’ Inclusive Learning Environment Statement.
- Encourage students to speak with you, the department chair, or their advisors about any concerns they have about classroom dynamics and/or classroom climate.
Other Sections that You Might Consider Including
- If applicable: Ground Rules for Online Discussion & Zoom/Canvas Netiquette: What rules will you establish for appropriate participation in Zoom discussion? What elements of netiquette should students follow in live or face to face settings?
- Technical Requirements and Support Available: What kinds of technology and technology access will students need to participate successfully in your course? What additional EdTech tools will they need to learn? Where should the students go for tech support?
- Course Website/Canvas Usage Description: How will students use your course website or Canvas course shell? What will students do on your website or in your Canvas course? Where should they expect to find readings, assignment descriptions, discussion threads, grades, etc.
- For Remote Students: Description of Successful Online Learners: What are the characteristics of successful remote learners? What steps can students take to ensure that they make the most out of their courses if they are participating remotely?
University-Wide Policies & Guidelines
COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols
Students experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or concerned about a possible exposure should contact Habif Health and Wellness Center (314 935-6666) to arrange for testing as indicated. If a student tests positive for Covid-19, they will receive a letter with instructions about any necessary isolation that they can share with their instructors. **Update: 9/1/23. Illness activity at the start of the semester is high, and students may not have documentation of their COVID status; instructors should NOT request students provide them with results of PCR tests in order to receive an excused absence. During this time, please extend grace to students who indicate a need to isolate and allow their absence so that we may reduce the likelihood of illnesses being transmitted in our classrooms.** Any accommodation needs for COVID-related absence not covered in an instructor’s standard course policies should be discussed between the student and instructor.
While on campus, it is imperative that students follow all public health guidelines established to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within our community. The full set of University protocols can be found on the Health and Safety webpage. This includes:
Masking remains a valuable tool in the mitigation of COVID-19, particularly in light of new and emerging variants. Students and instructors are encouraged to treat requests to mask with care and consideration, keeping in mind that some individuals may be at a higher risk, caring for others at a higher risk, or feeling less comfortable in a mask-optional environment. Based on monitoring of regional and campus conditions, a mask requirement may be implemented as needed.
Students with disabilities for whom masked instructors or classmates create a communication barrier are encouraged to contact Disability Resources (www.disability.wustl.edu) or talk to their instructor for assistance in determining reasonable adjustments. Adjustments may involve amplification devices, captioning, or clear masks but will not allow for the disregard of mask policies should a requirement be in place.
If a student discusses or discloses an instance of sexual assault, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking, or if a faculty member otherwise observes or becomes aware of such an allegation, the faculty member will keep the information as private as possible, but as a faculty member of Washington University, they are required to immediately report it to the Department Chair or Dean or directly to Ms. Cynthia Copeland, the University’s Associate Title IX Coordinator, at (314) 935-3411, email@example.com. They will also offer available resources, including confidential support resources through the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) at 314-935-3445. Additionally, you can report incidents or complaints to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards or by contacting WUPD at (314) 935-5555 or your local law enforcement agency. See: Gender Equity and Title IX Compliance Office
WashU supports the right of all enrolled students to an equitable educational opportunity, and strives to create an inclusive learning environment. In the event the physical or online environment results in barriers to the inclusion of a student due to a disability, they should notify the instructor as soon as possible.
Disabled students requiring adjustments to equitably complete expectations in this course should contact WashU’s Disability Resources (DR), and engage in a process for determining and communicating reasonable accommodations. Because accommodations are not applied retroactively, DR recommends initiating requests prior to, or at the beginning of, the academic term to avoid delays in accessing accommodations once classes begin. Once established, responsibility for disability-related accommodations and access is shared by Disability Resources, faculty, and the student.
Disability Resources: www.disability.wustl.edu; 314-935-5970
Washington University recognizes that students serving in the U.S. Armed Forces and their family members may encounter situations where military service forces them to withdraw from a course of study, sometimes with little notice. Students may contact the Office of Military and Veteran Services at (314) 935-2609 or firstname.lastname@example.org and their academic dean for guidance and assistance. See: https://veterans.wustl.edu/policies/policy-for-military-students/.
Washington University in St. Louis recognizes that many students prefer to use names other than their legal ones to identify themselves. In addition, in order to affirm each person’s gender identity and lived experiences, it is important that we ask and check in with others about pronouns. This simple effort can make a profound difference in a person’s experience of safety, respect, and support. See: Pronouns Information and Preferred Name.
Before an emergency, familiarize yourself with the building(s) that you frequent. Know the layout,
including exit locations, stairwells and the Emergency Assembly Point (EAP). Review the “Quick Guide for Emergencies” that is found near the door in many classrooms and main lobby areas of buildings for specific emergency information and instructions. For additional Information and EAP maps, visit https://emergency.wustl.edu/. To ensure that you receive emergency notifications, make sure your information and cell phone number is updated in SIS, and/or download the WashU Safe app and enable notifications.
To report an emergency:
Danforth Campus: (314) 935-5555
School of Medicine Campus: (314) 362-4357
North/West/South and Off Campus: 911 then (314) 935-5555
Effective learning, teaching and research all depend upon the ability of members of the academic community to trust one another and to trust the integrity of work that is submitted for academic credit or conducted in the wider arena of scholarly research. Such an atmosphere of mutual trust fosters the free exchange of ideas and enables all members of the community to achieve their highest potential.
In all academic work, the ideas and contributions of others (including generative artificial intelligence) must be appropriately acknowledged and work that is presented as original must be, in fact, original. Faculty, students and administrative staff all share the responsibility of ensuring the honesty and fairness of the intellectual environment at Washington University in St. Louis.
For additional details on the university-wide Undergraduate Academic Integrity policy, please see: https://wustl.edu/about/compliance-policies/academic-policies/undergraduate-student-academic- integrity-policy/
Instructors are encouraged to include in their syllabus a link to school-specific information on Academic Integrity policies and procedures.
Turnitin (*Note that this should be included if you might use TurnItIn in your course at any point)
In taking this course, students may be expected to submit papers and assignments through Turnitin for detection of potential plagiarism and other academic integrity concerns. If students do not have an account with Turnitin and/or do not utilize Turnitin when submitting their papers and assignments, the instructor may upload your paper or assignment to Turnitin for processing and review.
Confidential Resources for Instances of Sexual Assault, Sex Discrimination, Sexual Harassment, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, or Stalking
The University is committed to offering reasonable academic accommodations (e.g. a no-contact order, course changes) to students who are victims of relationship or sexual violence, regardless of whether they seek a formal investigation or criminal charges. If a student needs to explore options for medical care, other services, or reporting, or would like to receive individual counseling services, there are free, confidential support resources and professional counseling services available through the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center. If you need to request such accommodations, please contact RSVP to schedule an appointment with a confidential and licensed counselor. Although information shared with counselors is confidential, requests for accommodations will be coordinated with the appropriate University administrators and faculty. The RSVP Center is located in Seigle Hall, Suite 435, and can be reached at email@example.com or (314) 935-3445. For after-hours emergency response services, call the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (SARAH) at (314) 935-8080 or call 314-935-6666 or (314) 935-5555 and ask to speak with an RSVP Counselor on call. See: RSVP Center.
The University has a process through which students, faculty, staff, and community members who have experienced or witnessed incidents of bias, prejudice, or discrimination against a student can report their experiences to the University’s Bias Report and Support System (BRSS) team.
Counseling and Psychological Services’ professional staff members work with students to resolve personal and interpersonal difficulties, many of which can affect a student’s academic experience. These include conflicts with or worry about friends or family, concerns about eating or drinking patterns, and feelings of anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide. Individual, Conjoint, and Group therapy are all provided in addition to referrals for off-campus support. Information can be found on the Mental Health Services webpage.
The Division of Student Affairs also offers a telehealth program to students called TimelyCare. While students are encouraged to visit Counseling and Psychological Services during business hours, this additional service also provides after-hours access to medical care and 24/7 access to mental telehealth care across the United States, with no cost at the time of the visit. 12 counseling visits are provided at no charge as well as a limited number of psychiatry appointments. Students who pay the Health and Wellness fee are eligible for this service.
Additionally, see the mental health services offered through the RSVP Center listed above.
WashU Cares specializes providing referrals and resources, both on, and off campus for mental health, medical health, financial and academic resources by using supportive case management. WashU Cares also receives reports on students who may need help connecting to resources or whom a campus partner is concerned about. If you are concerned about a student or yourself, you can file a report here: https://washucares.wustl.edu/.
The Writing Center offers free writing support to all Washington University undergraduate and graduate students. Staff members will work with students on any kind of writing project, including essays, writing assignments, personal statements, theses, and dissertations. They can help at any stage of the process, including brainstorming, developing and clarifying an argument, organizing evidence, or improving style. Instead of simply editing or proofreading papers, the tutors will ask questions and have a conversation with the writer about their ideas and reasoning, allowing for a higher order revision of the work. They will also spend some time looking at sentence level patterns to teach students to edit their own work.
The Center is located in Mallinckrodt and open Sunday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm and Friday from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Students are seen primarily by appointment, with walk-ins accepted as the schedule allows. They also have dedicated walk-in hours for undergraduates on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. Both in-person and online appointments are available. To make an appointment, go to writingcenter.wustl.edu. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Learning Center provides peer-led support programs, including course-specific mentoring and academic skills coaching (study and test-taking strategies, time management, etc.), that enhance undergraduate students’ academic progress. Contact them at email@example.com or visit ctl.wustl.edu/learningcenter to find out what support they may offer for your classes.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) supports and advocates for undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students from underrepresented and/or marginalized populations, collaborates with campus and community partners, and promotes dialogue and social change to cultivate and foster a supportive campus climate for students of all backgrounds, cultures, and identities. Additional Diversity and Inclusion information can be found at https://diversityinclusion.wustl.edu/.
Students play an essential role in a vibrant and functioning democracy! State and local elections take place throughout the year and have a direct impact on our communities. You can register to vote, request an absentee ballot, confirm your polling location, and get Election Day reminders at http://wustl.turbovote.org for any of the 50 states and Washington D.C. WashU students are considered Missouri residents, and eligible student voters can register to vote in the state of Missouri or their home state.
If you are ineligible to vote, you can participate by encouraging your friends to register and vote, engaging your peers in local issues, and taking part in other civic and community engagement activities. For more resources on voting and other civic and community engagement opportunities, please visit http://washuvotes.wustl.edu and http://gephardtinstitute.wustl.edu.
University Libraries include seven unique locations across the Danforth Campus, but they are much more than just beautiful, quiet spaces for studying and group work. The Libraries include librarians for every discipline on campus, with the expertise to work with you to develop research ideas and find the best resources to meet your needs; or you are welcome to explore our research guides, tailored for each subject and available online. The Libraries hold five million items in the collection—print books, journals, electronic resources, databases, and millions more accessible through interlibrary loan—and you can find it all at the search on our home page. Additional resources for students include special collections, data services, citation help, digital publishing, and more. Visit the Libraries website for more details about these and other ways that the Libraries are here to support your academic success. Electronic resources listed on the Libraries’ website and catalog are restricted to current students, staff, and faculty for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For more information, please visit https://libguides.wustl.edu/RERU
[Note to faculty: You are welcome to list the contact information for your subject librarian directly on your syllabus, and/or reach out to your subject librarian to create a research guide curated to the needs of your class.]
Religious Holidays & Class Absence Policies
As home to students, faculty, and staff of all the world’s major religions and as a non-sectarian institution, Washington University in St. Louis values the rich diversity of spiritual expression and practice found on campus. It is therefore the policy of the university that students who miss class, assignments, or exams to observe a religious holiday should be accommodated as follows:
(i) absences should be counted as excused in any course in which attendance is a measure of academic performance;
(ii) reasonable extensions of time should be given, without academic penalty, for missed assignments;
(iii) exams should be reasonably rescheduled without academic penalty.
To ensure that accommodations may be made, students who plan to miss class for a religious holiday must inform their instructors in writing before the end of the third week of class, or as soon as possible if the holiday occurs during the first three weeks of the semester. Absence for religious reasons does not lessen students’ responsibility for course work or material covered during their absence. It is incumbent on the student who misses a class to
catch up on any material discussed and assignments given during that class period. If you believe you have not received a reasonable accommodation despite engaging with your instructor on the topic, please follow the course grievance process outlined by your school.
Every effort should be made to avoid scheduling exams on religious holidays, particularly those with work restrictions as noted on the holiday calendar. Faculty should be supported in establishing a teaching schedule that allows them to avoid conflict with their observance of religious holidays. Where this is not possible, faculty should make up any missed class in the method most appropriate to student learning in their course; e.g., rescheduling for an alternate time, providing asynchronous material, or engaging a guest lecturer. Appropriate advance notice should be provided to students.
The complete Religious Holiday Class Absence Policy can be found here. The Office of Religious, Spiritual and Ethical Life maintains a calendar of many religious holidays observed by the WashU community. Listed below are dates of some of the major religious holidays or obligations in the Fall 2022/Spring 2023 semester that may pose potential conflicts for observant students.
The Jewish holidays that may pose potential scheduling conflicts begin at sundown on the first day listed and end at nightfall of the last day shown:
September 15-17: Rosh Hashanah
September 24-25: Yom Kippur
September 29-October 1: Sukkot Opening Days
October 6-7: Shemini Atzeret
October 7-8: Simchat Torah
April 22-24: Passover Opening Days
April 28-30: Passover Closing Days
June 11-13: Shavuot
Additionally, the Sabbath/Shabbat is celebrated each Friday at sundown though Saturday at nightfall.
Baha’i students may require observance on the following days:
October 15-17: Twin Holy Days
May 23-24: Declaration of the Bab
The dates this fall that may present a conflict for Hindu students are:
October 23: Dussehra
November 1: Diwali (also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs)
Muslim student may require observance on the following days:
March 10-April 9 (approximately): Ramadan
April 9-10 (approximately): Eid al-Fitr
Post-Break Assignment & Assessment Policies
The university recognizes that meaningful breaks from coursework are an important component in creating an environment that fosters wellness and balance in our campus community. To enhance students’ capacity to utilize scheduled breaks within the semester to support their well-being:
- No assignments of any kind should be due during break days as listed on the University Registrar’s website.
- No assessments or assignments (i.e., exams, quizzes, papers, projects) contributing to a significant portion of the course grade (>= 15% of the course grade) may be due on the first calendar day of classes following a break.
- Assistants in instruction should not be expected to return graded material on these days.
Routine preparation for class is still expected, including reading assignments. Exceptions may only be made for courses meeting once per week; however these courses are encouraged to avoid scheduling significant assessments or assignment deadlines for these days wherever possible.
The relevant dates on which classes are in session but for which assessments or assignments should not be scheduled (as above) are:
- Tuesday following Labor Day
- Wednesday following Fall Break
- Monday following Thanksgiving Break
- Tuesday following MLK Day
- Monday following Spring Break
Universal Design for Learning
One final important consideration when preparing a syllabus is in making sure that it is clear, and easy to read for all students. Instructors should consider following Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines for accessible texts by: using a clear, easy to read font style, avoiding italics, organizing the document clearly and with headings, considering color contrast when adding colored text or imagines, and adding alt-text to digital copies (CAST UDL Syllabus).
Instructors may also wish to consider where their syllabus will “live.” Frequently, the syllabus is distributed on the first day of class, but instructors may also wish to add the syllabus to the course Canvas page or course website as well. Having the syllabus available digitally makes it easier to update in response to unforeseeable circumstances (e.g. a snow day) or necessary changes (e.g. students are struggling with a particular concept and the class must review rather than moving on). While it’s important to be responsive to student needs, students may also feel disoriented if too many changes to the syllabus occur in a single course. It is critical to help students understand the reason for any change that is made to the syllabus mid-semester.
Finally, instructors should carefully consider how they will introduce the syllabus to students. While it may be tempting to read your syllabus to students on the first day, there are many other strategies that can be employed that may be more effective at helping students understand the course and setting the right tone for the rest of the semester. Some popular strategies include creating a “syllabus quiz,” asking students to identify information in the syllabus in small groups, and using the allotted syllabus time for individual reading and reflection followed by large group discussion that clarifies questions and concerns.
This checklist was revised August, 9 2023.