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Lesson 8: Developing a Good Syllabus

The syllabus is a communication tool. It conveys your expectations, the structure of the course and operating procedures. It can set the tone and can send a hostile or welcoming message. Think of the syllabus as a tool that will "positively" inform the students what the outcomes will be and how they will be accomplished. It can be viewed as a contract even though it is not necessarily a legal document. In addition, it ...

  1. is evidence that the instructor is prepared and organized.
  2. can be used as a management tool.
  3. helps to hold both the learner and the teacher accountable.

A good syllabus can convey ...

  1. enthusiasm for the content.
  2. the instructional challenges of the course.
  3. respect for the students' abilities.
  4. the teacher's desire to help students succeed, both as individuals and as a group.

Items to be incorporated into a syllabus include the following:

  1. Required college criteria, such as course code, course title, credits, prerequisites, course description, student learning outcomes, methods of evaluation, grading scale, and required purchases. Purchases could include learning materials, like textbooks, software, and supplies.
  2. Assignment descriptions and due dates.
  3. Attendance policy.
  4. Policy on missing exams.
  5. Policy on late materials.
  6. Nature of class sessions.
  7. Acceptable and unacceptable class behavior.
  8. Academic standards that will be enforced, such as cheating, plagiarism, etc.
  9. A disability statement.

Once you have written your syllabus, keep in mind the following:

  1. Check for typo's, spelling errors, and grammar before distributing/posting the course syllabus. It's always best to have someone else proof the syllabus, as well.
  2. Syllabi should be available on the first day of class. There should also be an opportunity to review the syllabus and address any student questions or concerns.
  3. If changes are made to the syllabus after distribution, they should be given to the students in writing and/or posted on the course site.
  4. You may want to get feedback from your students regarding the syllabus, with the planned outcome of improving the syllabus if needed. Using a five-point Likert scale, from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree," the following statements might be used regarding the syllabus at the end of the course. (Teaching Professor, May 1995)
    • ____ 1. I used the syllabus after the initial discussion of it on the first day of class.
    • ____ 2. The instructor did a good job of explaining what the syllabus was designed to do and how it could be of use to me.
    • ____ 3. The syllabus reduced my anxiety regarding the grading policy, etc., for this course.
    • ____ 4. Course policies and procedures were consistent with what was stated in the syllabus.
    • ____ 5. The syllabus helped me to learn better in this course.

For more information on developing a good syllabus, see the CTE's Teaching Tip, Developing a Good Syllabus

Lessons: Index, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, References

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