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. The basic elements of a syllabus are as follows:
Basic Course Information
- Course title
- Course number
- Date and time
- Class location
Instructor Contact Information
- Instructor name
- Instructor email
- Preferred method of contact
- Office hours
- Office location
- Information about AI(s) and/or TA(s) if applicable
Course Description and Course Goals
- Provide a course description that is consistent with that which appears in the course listings, but that may provide more detailed information that will help students feel “invited” into the learning experience. It’s a good idea to list any prerequisites for the course here as well.
- Consider listing 4-6 student-centered course goals or learning objectives. What should your students learn or be able to do as a result of participating successfully in your course? The best-constructed goals are specific, measurable, and attainable.
Texts, Materials, and Supplies
- List all required and non-required texts including title, author, ISBN #, edition, and where the text can be purchased, borrowed from, or found (e.g. Canvas course page, library reserve system, etc.).
- List all required materials or equipment (e.g. lab notebook, specific calculator, safety equipment, art supplies, etc.) 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.
- Encourage students to speak with you if they experience any logistical challenges in obtaining materials or participating in required experiences such as field trips or off-campus meetings.
Assessments & Grading
- 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 due dates for exams and major assignments, as well as some mention of the assignment’s purpose.
- Describe what students will be required to do to prepare for class and/or to complete weekly homework.
- Provide a statement of 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.
- Indicate your policy on missed exams, late work, and regrading. Regrading is especially important to clarify if you have AIs or TAs who will be grading in the course.
- Provide a statement on academic integrity, including when collaboration is authorized.
Guidelines for Attendance, Participation, and Classroom Climate
- Describe your attendance policy.
- Describe the function of classroom participation within the course as well as your expectations for how students should participate. Explain whether participation is required and how it will be assessed.
- Explain your policy for students using technology in the classroom.
- Consider including ground rules for appropriate classroom discussion, as well as a clear statement of expectations that the interactions in class will remain civil, respectful, and supportive. See 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.
Campus-Wide Minimum Course Standards for Fall 2020
- All courses should have a structured digital presence within Canvas (including a syllabus, an outline of sessions, weeks, topics or modules, etc.). Canvas can be a “hub” for courses to link to other platforms and resources.
- All course content (e.g., course files/assignments, Powerpoints) should be made digitally available. If hard copies of assigned readings (e.g., textbooks, case books, etc.) are not readily accessible via the bookstore/online purchase, some provision should be made for digital access.
- All assignments and assessments should be collected as digital submissions.
- For any activities done in the classroom, instructors should consider remote alternatives for students who cannot be present (e.g., some form of online discussion or collaboration on documents).
- Instructors and AIs/TAs should be available for virtual office hours (or some other form of virtual support) for remote students, and that availability is communicated clearly to students from the start of the course.
Additional Campus-Wide Policies
- Statement of Military Service Leave
- Statement on Preferred Names and Inclusive Gender Pronouns
- Statement on Sexual Assault Reporting
- Statement on Accommodations for Sexual Violence and Sexual Harrassment
- Emergency Preparedness Statement
You can find the University’s preferred language related to these policies in the Center for Teaching and Learning’s syllabus template.
University Resources for Students
The syllabus can be a place for students to find support for academic and non-academic challenges can impact their learning. Resources for students that can be highlighted in the syllabus include:
- Disability Resources
- The Writing Center
- The Learning Center
- Habif Health and Wellness Center
- Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center
- Bias Report and Support System (BRSS)
- Center for Diversity & Inclusion (CDI)
You can find sample statements on these resources in the Center for Teaching and Learning’s syllabus template.
Preliminary Schedule of Topics, Readings, and Assignments
- Include dates you plan to cover topics (along with expectations for what students will come to class prepared to do or having done). Consult relevant academic calendars and keep in mind religious holidays and significant campus events.
One 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 has been revised August 6, 2020.