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 2021 information from the provost and campus partners.
Basic 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 transferrable 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?
COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols
Exceptions to course attendance policies, expectations, and requirements because of a COVID-19 diagnosis, symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or exposure to a person with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis that requires quarantine or isolation will be made in collaboration between the student and instructor. In these cases, please notify your instructor as soon as possible to discuss appropriate accommodations.
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 at https://covid19.wustl.edu/health-safety/. This includes:
- Completing a self-screening using the WashU COVID-19 Screening app every day before coming to campus or leaving your residence hall room. If you do not receive a green check and pass the screening, you are not permitted to come to campus or leave your residence hall room. You must contact the COVID Call Center (314-362-5056) or the Habif Health and Wellness Center (314 935-6666) immediately. Note: In addition to the symptoms listed in the screening tool, everyone also should pay attention to symptoms that are new or different for you, including things like headache and congestion, particularly in combination with diarrhea. These can also be signs of COVID-19. Call the COVID Call Center or Habif to report these symptoms.
- Complying with universal masking. All individuals on campus must wear disposable masks or cloth face coverings while occupying indoor public settings, including: multi-person offices, hallways, stairwells, elevators, meeting rooms, classrooms and restrooms. Masks are encouraged but not required for outdoor activities, particularly at large events or in crowded settings. 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.
- Maintaining physical distancing as needed. While distancing requirements have been removed for vaccinated students, those who are not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged, for their own health, to maintain a distance of 6 ft from others in the classroom. If you are not able to be vaccinated or have conditions that may put you at increased risk of failed immunity and classroom activities would bring you in frequent proximity to other students, contact your instructor to discuss alternatives.
- Practicing healthy personal hygiene, including frequent handwashing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds and/or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Note that the Provost’s Office strongly recommends that all policies listed below be included in university syllabi.
Reporting Sexual Assault or Harassment
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, Dean, or to Ms. Cynthia Copeland, the Associate Title IX Coordinator, at (314) 935-3411, email@example.com. 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: Title IX.
Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Students
Washington University in St. Louis supports the rights of enrolled students to a full and equal educational opportunity and, in compliance with federal, state, and local requirements, is committed to reasonable accommodations for individuals with documented disabilities. Disabled students for whom accommodations may be necessary must be registered with, and provide their instructors official notification through, WUSTL’s Disability Resources (www.disability.wustl.edu). Once established, responsibility for disability-related accommodations and access is shared by DR, faculty, and the student. Please contact Disability Resources at 314.935.5970 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statement on Military Service Leave
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 email@example.com and their academic dean for guidance and assistance. See: https://veterans.wustl.edu/policies/policy-for-military-students/.
Preferred Names and Gender Inclusive Pronouns
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: https://students.wustl.edu/gender-pronouns-information/ , https://registrar.wustl.edu/student-records/ssn-name-changes/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 for specific emergency information and instructions. For additional Information and EAP maps, visit 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 WUSTL 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
Academic Integrity: (Note: Instructors are encouraged to include in their syllabus a link to school-specific information on Academic Integrity policies and procedures as well.)
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 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/
TurnitIn (Note that this should only be included if you intend to use TurnItIn in your course.)
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.
Resources for Students
The syllabus can be a place for students to find support for academic and non-academic challenges that can impact their learning. Resources for students that can be highlighted in the syllabus include those listed below.
At Washington University we strive to make the academic experience accessible and inclusive. If you anticipate or experience barriers based on disability, please contact Disability Resources at 314.935.5970, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website for information about requesting academic accommodations. See: https://students.wustl.edu/disability-resources/.
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 criminal or disciplinary action. If a student needs to explore options for medical care, protections, 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 (314) 935-6666 or (314) 935-5555 and ask to speak with an RSVP Counselor on call. See: RSVP Center.
Bias Report and Support System (BRSS)
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. To report an instance of bias, visit https://students.wustl.edu/bias-report-support-system/.
Mental Health Services
Mental Health 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. See: https://students.wustl.edu/mental-health-services/ Additionally, see the mental health services offered through the RSVP Center listed above.
WashU Cares, specializes in connecting students to mental health, medical, financial and academic resources by using supportive case management. We seek to empower students to be successful through life’s challenges and to have ownership of their experiences. Our services are designed to support Danforth Campus students. If you feel concerned about a students who may need help connecting to resources, we accept referrals from all students, faculty, and staff. If you are concerned about a student, you can file a report here: https://washucares.wustl.edu/ and a WashU Cares Case Manager will reach out to you to get more information about your concern.
The Writing Center
The Writing Center, located in Olin Library, offers free one-on-one writing tutorials to WashU students, as well as workshops designed to help students become better writers. The Writing Center staff can assist by providing feedback on the strength of an argument, clarity, and organization. Contact them at 935-4981 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit them at: https://writingcenter.wustl.edu/.
Engineering Communications Center
The Engineering Communications Center offers students in the McKelvey School of Engineering one-on-one help with oral presentations, writing assignments, and other communications projects. They are located in Urbauer Hall, Rm. 104. To schedule an appointment, please email the ECC faculty at email@example.com.
The Learning Center
The Learning Center works collaboratively with University partners to provide undergraduate students key resources, like academic peer mentoring, to enhance their academic progress. Contact them at https://ctl.wustl.edu/learningcenter/ to find out what support they may offer for your classes.
Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI)
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. Visit: https://diversityinclusion.wustl.edu/.
State and local elections can have direct and immediate impacts on our communities and will be happening here in St. Louis and around the country this year. Make sure you stay current on upcoming elections at all levels by registering as a voter, requesting an absentee ballot, or getting election day reminders. You can do all this at https://wustl.turbovote.org/ for any of the 50 states and Washington D.C.. If you are ineligible to vote, you can still participate by referring your friends who are eligible to the TurboVote link and by engaging with your peers about local issues. If you have any questions about the voting process in the United States, please visit: http://washuvotes.wustl.edu.
Include dates you plan to cover specific topics (with reading assignments), the due dates for major assignments, and the due date for the final exam. Consult relevant academic calendars and keep in mind religious holidays and significant campus events.
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 2021/Spring 2022 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 6-8: Rosh Hashanah
September 15-16: Yom Kippur
September 20-22: Sukkot Opening Days
September 27-29: Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah
April 15-17: Passover Opening Days
April 21-23: Passover Closing Days
June 4-6: 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:
November 7: Birth of Baha’u’llah
The dates this fall that may present a conflict for Hindu students are:
October 25: Dasara
November: 4 Diwali
Universal Design for Learning
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 10, 2021.