Crafting a Course Syllabus

Course syllabi serve many functions, such as enumerating topics that will be covered; listing readings, assignments, and due dates; describing the grading system; and articulating class attendance policies. Constructing a clear syllabus allows you to be proactive in addressing student expectations and questions. Your syllabus provides a course blueprint that adds coherence to the class. Viewing a syllabus as a ‘road map’ engages students by providing context for the course.

1. Consult the CTRL Syllabus Guide for suggestions on items to include in your syllabus.

The CTRL syllabus guide contains a number of items commonly included in a syllabus as well as a full syllabus in Microsoft Word format for you to download and edit.

2. Provide students with an overview of the entire course.

This overview can be a written as an introduction or as a series of course goals that reflect your teaching philosophy and how you view your discipline. Some faculty include questions that they plan to address during the semester. The goal is to move beyond the course description in the AU catalog by personalizing your content.

3. Include subheadings, which help students to easily locate information they need.

Some obvious examples are Assignments, Grading Policy, and Class Schedule.

4. Experiment with alternative formats to make the document visually inviting and accessible.

Think about layout so that sections are easy to locate and read. Consider using bolded topic headings or tables for specific content (such as class schedules). If you experiment with color and font size, please bear in mind the needs of students with visual impairment.

5. Ensure that students have access to both a print and digital version.

Making both available provides students with the option of selecting the medium that works best for them. For the print option, decide if you will provide printed copies of the syllabus or invite students to print their own copies (e.g., by emailing them a PDF.)

6. Demonstrate your personal interest in your subject.

You might do so as part of your introduction, overview, or section on course goals. Some faculty have created a short video introduction as a way to introduce both themselves and the course content.

7. Recognize that the syllabus reflects your own sense of logic, which may not be the same as your students’.

What seems perfectly clear and logical to faculty may seem confusing to students. Find ways to explain to your students the logic behind your organization.

8. Explore ways to encourage students to read and continue to consult the syllabus.

As the semester progresses, remind students that relevant information about course assignments and deadlines is on the syllabus. This scaffolded approach helps students learn how to be organized, which is not a skill all of our students bring with them to college.

9. Be clear about the course schedule and due dates for assignments.

There is no single best format for providing this information, but all students will need to know the number and types of assignments for your course, when they are due (including the time of day), how to submit them, and your policy on turning work in past the due date. Clearly state the consequences of late work (for example, a grade or point deduction each day that the assignment is overdue).

10. Include a list of resource services that are available to students at AU.

This information is located in the CTRL Syllabus Guide as Academic Support Services and Student Support Services and is updated every August. It can be copied and pasted directly into your course syllabus. Including this information sends an important message to your students that you are aware of available resources and encourage them to take advantage of support as they need it. Students, even upperclassmen, may be unaware of these resources.