Creating a Course Syllabus
A syllabus is a "learning contract" between you (the instructor) and the students. It
sets the ground rules for all the classroom goals, objectives, activities,
assessment tools, policies and exceptions. In normal use, the syllabus will
serve as a planning tool for both instructor and students. In extreme cases, the
syllabus can be used to resolve disputes between students and faculty, for
example on the number and weight of various assignments. As such, the
syllabus should contain
The syllabus should be available to students on the very first day of class, or ideally well ahead of time, to alert them about prerequisite courses, required materials, time commitment and such. Especially for distance education students, making the syllabus available ahead of time will ensure that even students at remote locations can be ready for class.
At times, there will be a need to make changes to the syllabus. The document should specify under what circumstances such changes will be made and how the changes will be communicated to the students. It goes without saying: it is best when changes are made only after consultation with students.
The syllabus is traditionally handed to students as a printed document on the first day of class. Instructors who use technology often post the syllabus on their web site, on in an online course management software (Blackboard or similar). Anytime there is a change in the syllabus, the updated version should be printed and distributed to students, or should be re-posted online (preferably with a version number and date of the change, to alert students of the changes).
For distance education courses, the syllabus can be posted online or even better, mailed to students. Mailing a printed copy will make sure that even students who are less familiar with online learning will be able to get started with the class. The printed mailed syllabus can let students know about the location of online materials and how to access such materials.
Traditionally, the instructor will put the syllabus together, or the instructors teaching multiple sections of a class will get together and agree on the common and different elements of the different sections.
An intriguing concept is to allow students to create the syllabus or to participate in the creation of the syllabus. This approach can be specially suited for graduate classes, where the goals and objectives of the class itself could be decided by the interests of the students. Also, in any class where the instructor is receptive to different learning styles and testing abilities, the syllabus can be tailored to better suit student needs, even on an individual basis.
Finally, the students could always be involved in the Policies section of the syllabus. By allowing students to decide what policies to choose and how to implement them, the instructor will assure fairness and student buy-in.
Instructor contact information and office hours
Course goals and objectives
The place and role of the course in the program of study
How to study for this course
Detailed course calendar
Reading list with references
A syllabus can be created using a simple word processor, web design tools (for online posting) or desktop publishing tools. If you have artistic inclinations or you just want a colorful and attractive syllabus, you can use software like Microsoft Publisher. We have compiled a list of syllabi that you can use as a model. These might be older documents and might not reflect the current schedule or structure of the particular class, but are useful models for beginning instructors.
Syllabus and Course Design resources from USC (includes video presentations)