How To Write A Syllabus Assignments

What is a comprehensive syllabus?
How can you create an effective syllabus?
How can you motivate students to refer to the syllabus?

What is a comprehensive syllabus?

A comprehensive syllabus:

  • Sets the tone for the course. (Posner & Rudnitsky, 1994).
  • Communicates what, when, and how students will learn.
  • Makes clear to students what they need to do in order to be successful.
  • Communicates expectations in terms of student responsibilities.
  • Deters misunderstandings about course policies.

How can you create an effective syllabus?

Getting started

  • Establish course learning outcomes. Consider what you would like students to know or be able to do as a result of taking your course.
  • Design your course. This Course Decisions Guide can guide you in the process.
  • Consult our Syllabus Template to review some recommended best practices for syllabus construction. Type in your course material and information without having to format.
  • Use this Syllabus Rubric as a tool for reviewing your course syllabus.
  • Review the course description established by your department or syllabi of the same course from previous instructors.
  • Check online for sample syllabi of the same or similar courses from colleagues at other universities.
  • Consider questions students may have about the course (Davis, 2009).


The following ideas are adapted from Nilson (2010, p. 33-36).

How to set the tone for the course

  • Provide course information such as course number, location and time, prerequisites, and other requirements.
  • Share your teaching philosophy.
  • Announce office hours and location.
  • Share some information about yourself, such as your educational and professional background.
  • Describe how the course relates to the program, discipline, or field.
  • Provide information about campus services that can aid students with their studies.
  • Reflect on the overall tone of your writing: is it encouraging or punitive?

How to communicate what, when, and how students will learn

  • Articulate course learning outcomes.
  • List major topics your course will cover.
  • Provide a list of reading materials (briefly annotated).
  • List textbooks and other course materials and where to find them.
  • List all graded course requirements such as assignments, exams, attendance, participation, etc.
  • Provide a detailed schedule, weekly or daily. Include what will be covered, assignment and test dates, learning activities such as group work or presentations, guest speakers, field trips, library information sessions, etc.
  • Consider using a graphic syllabus to supplement your syllabus. A graphic syllabus is a “flowchart, graphic organizer, or diagram of the sequencing and organization of your course’s major topics through the term. It may also note the calendar schedule of the topics, the major activities and assignments, and the tests” (Nilson, 2010, p.38). See an example of graphic syllabus.

How to communicate what students need to do in order to succeed in the course

  • Next to learning outcomes, list what you believe students need to do in order to be successful (how many hours per week they should dedicate, class attendance and participation, etc.). Note that students may vary in their learning and that achieving course goals requires work on the students' part.
  • Provide detailed information on how graded assignments or activities will be evaluated.

How to communicate expectations in terms of student responsibilities

  • Next to learning outcomes, add a disclaimer stating that students may vary in their learning and that attaining competencies requires work on the student’s part.
  • Establish ground rules for classroom interactions. Ask for student input and make adjustments to your original list of expectations.
  • Make clear any course policies you may have on attendance, tardiness, missed or late exams or assignments, personal use of technology, and safety procedures in laboratories.

How to deter misunderstandings about course policies

  • Articulate institutional, departmental or course policies on academic integrity, students with disabilities, and diversity.
  • Detail examples of what constitutes violations of your policies and provide specific information on the consequences.
  • Note that any of the course activities listed in your syllabus may be subject to change under certain circumstances such as by mutual agreement or to enhance student learning.

How can you motivate students to refer to the syllabus?

  • Introduce the syllabus in class as a learning activity. Ask students to quiz each other, or conduct a jigsaw activity:
    1. Break the syllabus up into different sections.
    2. Divide students into different groups.
    3. Give each group a different section of the syllabus for review (expert groups).
    4. Re-form groups so that each group includes a member from each of the previous expert groups.
    5. Have the experts teach their section of the syllabus to their new groups.
  • Be strategic in where you place the syllabus. You can include it in the student course pack, on Blackboard, or on a course website.
  • If students ask questions that the syllabus answers, ask a student who has the course syllabus to find the answer on the spot.
  • Ask students to contribute to the syllabus. Have them review it in class and make suggestions for changes.

Resources for Writing a Syllabus

CTI Constructing a Syllabus (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)
Syllabus Template
Syllabus Rubric
Course Decisions Guide

References

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hara, B. (2010). Graphic display of student learning objectives. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/graphic-display-of-student-learning-objectives/27863

Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

O'Brien, J. G., Millis, B. J., & Cohen, M. W. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Academic Integrity

Example 1
You are expected to practice the highest possible standards of academic integrity. Any deviation from this expectation will result in a minimum academic penalty of your failing the assignment, and will result in additional disciplinary measures. This includes improper citation of sources, using another student's work, and any other form of academic misrepresentation.

The first tenet of the Carolinian Creed is, "I will practice personal and academic integrity."

Example 2
Academic Integrity: You are expected to practice the highest possible standards of academic integrity. Any deviation from this expectation will result in a minimum academic penalty of your failing the assignment, and will result in additional disciplinary measures including referring you to the Office of Academic Integrity. Violations of the University's Honor Code include, but are not limited to improper citation of sources, using another student's work, and any other form of academic misrepresentation. For more information, please see the Honor Code.

Remember that the first tenet of the Carolinian Creed is, "I will practice personal and academic integrity."

Example 3
The University of South Carolina has clearly articulated its policies governing academic integrity and students are encouraged to carefully review the policy on the Honor Code in the Carolina Community. Any deviation from these expectations will result in academic penalties as well as disciplinary action. The area of greatest potential risk for inadvertent academic dishonesty is plagiarism. Students should also read closely the discussion of avoiding plagiarism that is included in your reference manual.

Academic Support (Columbia campus)

Student Success Center
In partnership with University of South Carolina faculty, the Student Success Center (SSC) offers a number of programs to assist you in better understanding your course material and to aid you on your path to success. SSC programs are facilitated by professional staff, graduate students, and trained undergraduate peer leaders who have previously excelled in their courses. Resources available to students in this course may include:

  • Peer Tutoring: You can make a one-on-one appointment with a Peer Tutor by going to www.sc.edu/success. Drop-in Tutoring and Online Tutoring may also be available for this course. Visit our website for a full schedule of times, locations, and courses.
  • Supplemental Instruction (SI): SI Leaders are assigned to specific sections of courses and hold three weekly study sessions. Sessions focus on the most difficult content being covered in class. The SI Session schedule is posted through the SSC website each week and will also be communicated in class by the SI Leader.
  • Peer Writing: Improve your college-level writing skills by bringing writing assignments from any of your classes to a Peer Writing Tutor. Similar to Tutoring, you can visit the website to make an appointment, and to view the full schedule of available drop-in hours and locations.
  • Success Consultations: In Success Consultations, SSC staff assist students in developing study skills, setting goals, and connecting to a variety of campus resources. Throughout the semester, your instructor may communicate with the SSC via Success Connect, an online referral system, regarding your progress in the course. If contacted by the SSC, please schedule a Success Consultation. Success Connect referrals are not punitive and any information shared by your professor is confidential and subject to FERPA regulations.

SSC services are offered to all USC undergraduates at no additional cost. You are invited to call the Student Success Hotline at (803) 777-1000, visit www.sc.edu/success, or come to the SSC in the Thomas Cooper Library on the Mezzanine Level to check schedules and make appointments. 

Accommodating Disabilities

Example
Reasonable accommodations are available for students with a documented disability. If you have a disability and may need accommodations to fully participate in this class, contact the Office of Student Disability Services: 777-6142, TDD 777-6744, email sasds@mailbox.sc.edu, or stop by LeConte College Room 112A. All accommodations must be approved through the Office of Student Disability Services. 

Amending the Syllabus/Rules

Example
Amendments and changes to the syllabus, including evaluation and grading mechanisms, are possible. The instructor must initiate any changes. Changes to the grading and evaluation scheme must be voted on by the entire class and approved only with unanimous vote of all students present in class on the day the issue is decided. The lecture schedule and reading assignments (daily schedule) will not require a vote and may be altered at the instructor's discretion. Grading changes that unilaterally and equitably improve all students' grades will not require a vote. Once approved, amendments will be distributed in writing to all students via Blackboard.

Assignment Submission

Example 1
Assignments are always due before class starts on the day noted. Late assignments will be accepted only in cases of emergency.

Example 2
Assignments are due at times specified by the instructor. Usually, lab reports will be due at the beginning of class. If an assignment is not handed in on time, even by a minute, then it is late. Points are taken off as follows: Up to 24 hours from the due date = -10 points; 24 to 48 hours late = -20 points; 48 to 72 hours late = -30 points; More than 72 hours late = -50 points. However, late assignments will not be accepted if they have already been graded and returned to the other students.

Example 3
All assignments should be submitted using Blackboard's "submit assignment" link. Except for the last assignment and the final project, all assignments are due on Friday at 11:59 pm. Assignments lose 20% of their point value per day late and will be counted as if the whole assignment was submitted at the time of the latest timestamp present.

Attendance Policy

Example
When you miss class, you miss important information. If you are absent, you are responsible for learning material covered in class. If you are absent when an assignment is due, you must have submitted the assignment prior to the due date to receive credit. If you miss more than 10% of the classes, whether excused or unexcused, your grade will be dropped one letter grade.

Diversity

Example 1
In order to learn, we must be open to the views of people different that ourselves. In this time we share together over the semester, please honor the uniqueness of your fellow classmates and appreciate the opportunity we have to learn from one another. Please respect each others’ opinions and refrain from personal attacks or demeaning comments of any kind. Finally, remember to keep confidential all issues of a personal or professional nature that are discussed in class.

Example 2
In addition to scheduling exams, I have attempted to avoid conflicts with major religious holidays. If, however, I have inadvertently scheduled an exam or major deadline that creates a conflict with your religious observances, please let me know as soon as possible so that we can make other arrangements.

Expectations for Classroom Behavior

Example 1
All cell phones and pagers are to be turned off or silenced during class (not on vibrate). All cell phones are to be put away out of view during class; there is no text messaging, web browsing, etc, during class. There will be no eating during class time. Failure to adhere to these classroom rules may result in your being dismissed from class and/or an academic penalty.

Example 2
Please be respectful of each other, the instructor, and any guest presenters while in class. We are all here to learn! Any disrespectful or disruptive behavior may result in your referral to the Office of Student Judicial Programs.

Expectations of the Instructor

Example:
The instructor is expected to facilitate learning, to answer questions appropriately, to be fair and objective in grading, to provide timely and useful feedback on assignments, to maintain adequate office hours, and to treat students as he would like to be treated in their place.

Final Exams

Example
Students who are absent from any final examination will be given the grade of F on the course if they have not offered an excuse acceptable to the instructor. Re-examinations for the purpose of removing an F or raising a grade are not permitted. If the absence is excused, students will be assigned a grade of I, and may complete the course under the conditions specified by the instructor in the "Assignment of Incomplete Grade" form. A student with excused absence from a final examination in one semester may take the deferred examination at the next regular examination period provided the examination is taken at the convenience of the professor. The examination must be taken within one calendar year from the time the absence was incurred. Deferred examinations will be granted only in case of absence certified as unavoidable because of documented illness or other cause, rendering attendance at final examinations impossible.

Instructional Methods

Example
The course will be taught using multiple instructional methods. These methods will include lecture, group discussion and oral presentations with an associated critical discussion. Typically, course topics will be introduced via a 2-3 lecture format incorporating interpretive discussions. Directly following the lecture presentation, students will receive an article from the primary literature that either illustrates current research into the topic or explore a related or relevant additional concept. Literature discussions will utilize small group discussions following by classroom presentation and discussion.

 

Midterm Exams

Example 1
Makeup exams will be allowed only with pre-approval of the instructor or with an acceptable, documented reason. Acceptable reasons for makeup exams include severe illness, family emergencies or other unavoidable events including dangerous weather conditions and car accidents. Exam format for makeup exams may be different than the original exam and will likely utilize a short answer format. An oral examination may also be utilized if deemed appropriate by the instructor.

Example 2
Three exams will be given for the class which weight total 50% of the final grades. The date
and time will be announced in the class. Exams will have an undergraduate version and a
more challenged graduate version. Undergraduate students may get extra credits by solving
the problems for graduate students. From time to time, short quizzes will be given in the class
as a mechanism for measuring the understanding of materials presented in the class.
No makeup exams will be given without valid and documented excuse and prearranged with
the instructor.

Recommended Study Habits

Example 1
Readiness to learn means that you will come to class with questions and insights and prepared to discuss the relevance and application of course materials. I have found that students who do well in my class also:

Check Blackboard often for announcements and up-coming assignments and quizzes.
Highlight the textbook or take notes as you complete reading assignments to help you prepare for quizzes.
Form small study groups to prepare for the exams.
Get the phone numbers of at least two classmates whom you can contact if you have questions or need help studying.

Example 2
Readiness to learn means that you will come to class with questions and insights and prepared to discuss the relevance and application of course materials.
I have found that students who do well in my class also:

  • Read the assigned material before class.
  • Bring thoughtful questions to class for discussion.
  • Prepare for the exams in study groups.
  • Take notes during class discussions and while completing reading assignments

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