Just as you’d review your course content each term to ensure that it’s timely, fresh, and relevant, you’ll also find great value in reviewing your syllabus at the start of each term to make sure that it accurately and effectively addresses the important aspects of your course that students need to know and understand.
Below, we’ve compiled a number of tips that can help you in the process of reviewing your syllabus under two key points: what to include in the syllabus, and how to use the syllabus as a tool in your class. If you follow these suggestions before the start of this coming term, you’ll have a document that satisfies many of students’ questions and serves as a tool that they can refer to throughout your course.
What should you include in your syllabus?
A thoughtfully designed syllabus gives students a roadmap to your course. With syllabus in hand, they can review your class policies, identify your class resources, remind themselves of key due dates, and have a strong overall sense of the skills and concepts they’ll learn in your class.
In her post Elements of a Well-Written Syllabus, Maggi Miller, Manager for TeamUP, Cengage Learning’s peer-to-peer faculty development group, recommends that you should include the following information in your syllabus:
- Basic information such as the course title and number, location and time, and instructor name
- Your contact information (office location, phone, school e-mail, and office hours)
- Required text and other materials
- The catalog description of the course
- Your policies on attendance, late work, and academic integrity
- The course grading scale
- Measurable course learning outcomes/objectives
- A detailed calendar of course assignments and due dates, along with the point or percentage value for each
- Any other message that you wish to communicate to students
- A provision indicating that these plans may change, if a need arises
Per McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition, you might also include lists of helpful websites, additional readings, or strategies for learning (Svinicki and McKeachie, 16). (Looking for useful information to share? See Engaging Minds’ Tips for Students on such topics as reading course texts, taking critical notes, quoting source material, test-taking strategies, and more.)
Additionally, in the Instructor’s Manual for FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition, Steve Staley and Constance Staley suggest that you hand out any other useful pieces of information—such as flyers promoting on-campus tutoring services, worksheets, or any detailed policies or procedures unique to your course (44).
If you’re teaching the course online, you might also offer information about your course’s learning management system, or any other details related to the management of your class in the online environment.
How will you use the syllabus?
If you teach the class on campus, bring copies of the syllabus to the first class session, and distribute it among the students.
As Svinicki and McKeachie note, “The syllabus is a contract between you and your students” (21). Therefore, you can use it as a starting point for conversation in your first or second class session. Invite them to read through the syllabus carefully, and then ask any questions they might have about class periods, your assignments, due dates, policies, or anything else that appears on the document.
You’ll also want to ensure that students have easy access to this important information throughout the term. If you have a class website, be sure to include it there before class starts, if possible; and of course, if you’re using a learning management system, post it in a clearly marked, readily available location.
Staley, Constance. 2015. Instructor’s Manual for FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition. Boston: Cengage Learning.
Svinicki, Marilla, and Wilbert J. McKeachie. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers,14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
How do you go about reviewing your syllabus at the start of a term? What essential elements do you include? How do you use the syllabus as a teaching tool? Share your thoughts in the comments.