Syllabus Guide: Basic Course Information, Course Description and Goals, and Required Textbooks and Materials

Questions to Start Writing Your Syllabus

  • How do you want students to contact you: via email, phone or through Blackboard; through a course Facebook page?
  • Are there times of day you will not be available?
  • How soon can students expect a response?
  • Are you willing to meet with students at other times if office hours conflict with their schedule?
  • Where is your campus mailbox?

For adjunct faculty who don’t have office space, there are several options for establishing office hours:

  • Meet with students prior to or directly after class
  • Establish office hours and meet in the Blackboard Support Office in Library 321
  • Meet with students in the library, Mary Graydon Center, or other public spaces on campus
  • Establish on-line office hours when you will be available via e-mail, g-chat or Skype.

Information to Include in Your Course Syllabus

  • If a specific edition of a text is required, let students know. Prior editions may be less expensive, if they are available.
  • Distinguish between required and optional or recommended readings. Keep in mind that many students, especially freshmen, may interpret optional as required.
  • Let students know which books are on reserve in the Library.
  • Clearly state any additional resources or required fees, e.g. lab fees, art supplies, sheet music, field trips that require purchasing a ticket, technology fees or required software.
  • If your textbook includes ancillary tools, such as glossaries, online features, homework assignments or extension content, evaluate these tools and, if appropriate, teach your students how to make the best use of them. Based on the publisher, however, some of these features are only available if students purchase the most recent edition of the text.
  • Clearly communicate your policy on social media use (recording of lectures, sharing of classroom materials, etc.).

Course Description and Goals

This section might begin with the course description from the AU catalogue (or your individual version) and often includes general course goals: broad statements that outline the purpose of the course. These goals can be listed or written as a paragraph. Terms often used to describe goals include, for example, appreciate, value, explore, consider, take into account, understand, and become familiar with.

Selecting Textbooks and Readings for Your Course

The cost of textbooks continues to rise rapidly, and students frequently make their textbook decisions – including the decision to forgo an assigned textbook altogether – based on cost.When students remark that the cost of their course materials is ‘too high’, they either may be referring to an individual text or to the cumulative cost of books and materials for all of their courses combined.In selecting course readings, therefore, please be mindful of the cost/benefit implications in choosing materials while considering what will best meet your course goals.  Here are some options to consider:

Options Available to Students

Most (but not all) textbooks are available to rent (hard copy or online) for the semester.Some publishers also offer customized collections of chapters but this option does not guarantee a low cost.If your students are renting online, consider the impact that e-book use may have on your classroom technology policies (link to Ten Takeaways on this).

Open Education Resources (OERs)

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

The Center for Teaching, Research & Learning OER Initiative provides grants to faculty who want to revise a course to make use of OERs.

Library Course Reserves

The library puts a copy of each book on reserve for all General Education courses.They will also order additional copies if the book is frequently signed out or if faulty request more than one copy.If a textbook has a value of $150 or more, a copy will also be placed on reserve and additional copies can be ordered if there is frequent use.The Campus Store maintains a list of all textbooks that cost $150 or more and shares this with the library.

For all other courses, faculty may request that certain texts be made available through Library Reserves. For additional details see the library reserves page or contact the Reserves desk at 202-885-3231.

Alternatives to Traditional Textbooks

  • For an introductory course, in which a full-sized textbook may be needed, consider using an Open Educational Resource textbook (see above). When appropriate, you might also consider alternative information sources books that are not textbooks, journal article and/or other online resources.
  • Consider how much of a textbook students will be required to read.If it is only one or two chapters, consider other options available through the Library, such as e-reserves, which can be used for a single chapter of a book.
  • Based on your course content and discipline, consider whether students can purchase or rent an earlier edition of the text, and let students know your policy in advance.

Campus Store Alternatives

The Campus Store offers alternatives to purchasing new books, including renting print or digital texts, purchasing used print textbooks or earlier editions if they are available, purchasing eBooks or loose leafs (unbound, binder-ready textbooks). For more information, contact Sara Schlosser, Course Materials Manager,, 202-885-6303.