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Home Course DesignConstructing a Syllabus

Constructing a Syllabus

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Twenty years ago, many instructors would have described the syllabus as a “table of contents” or, alternatively, a “contract.” Today’s books on college teaching and course design are likely to draw on different metaphors: the syllabus is a map or travelogue, as it both describes the intended destination and explains why one might want to go in the first place (Nilson, 27).

The most effective syllabus goes beyond listing the logistics and the topics covered in the course – it (a) articulates the conceptual framework for the course; (b) introduces students to the key questions or problems facing experts in the field; (c) suggests the ways in which an understanding of the course subject matters; and (d) identifies the specific skills and knowledge students will be able to demonstrate upon leaving the course.

Typical elements of a syllabus include:

  • Title page (Course title, semester, date written, your name)
  • Contact information including office hours
  • Course pre-requisites, description, and objectives
  • Required material
  • Assigned work
  • A calendar or events including lecture topics, assigned work, and special announcements
  • Grading policies
  • Participation rubrics when appropriate
  • Course policies and student/teacher expectations (Attendance, participation, tardiness, academic integrity, missing homework, missed exams)
  • Additional comments or advice to students

Required Information in DePaul Syllabi

According to the DePaul Faculty Handbook (Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, p. 6) all syllabi should contain the following information:

  1. A rationale for the course stated in the context of the aims of the department and/or division;
  2. A statement on the types of instruction (i.e., lecture; lecture-discussion; lab, etc.);
  3. Specific materials required for the course (books, pamphlets, library materials, etc.);
  4. Proposed major and minor topics to be covered in the course;
  5. Specific required readings, and written and oral assignments (inclusion of tentative dates for such assignments is desirable);
  6. Specific descriptions of the criteria and methods (i.e., nature of quizzes and examinations) to be used by the instructor in evaluating students’ academic performance;
  7. Statement on plagiarism
  8. Instructor’s office number and office hours for the term in which the course is being offered.

Sample Syllabus Statements

Academic Integrity

Below is a general statement taken from Academic Integrity’s sample syllabus statements page.

DePaul University is a learning community that fosters the pursuit of knowledge and the transmission of ideas within a context that emphasizes a sense of responsibility for oneself, for others and for society at large. Violations of academic integrity, in any of their forms, are, therefore, detrimental to the values of DePaul, to the students’ own development as responsible members of society, and to the pursuit of knowledge and the transmission of ideas. Violations include but are not limited to the following categories: cheating; plagiarism; fabrication; falsification or sabotage of research data; destruction or misuse of the university’s academic resources; alteration or falsification of academic records; and academic misconduct. Conduct that is punishable under the Academic Integrity Policy could result in additional disciplinary actions by other university officials and possible civil or criminal prosecution. Please refer to your Student Handbook or visit Academic Integrity at DePaul University (http://academicintegrity.depaul.edu) for further details.

Center for Students with Disabilities

Below is a statement taken from the Center for Students with Disabilities.

Students seeking disability-related accommodations are required to register with DePaul’s Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) enabling you to access accommodations and support services to assist your success. There are two office locations:

  • Loop Campus – Lewis Center #1420 – (312) 362-8002
  • Lincoln Park Campus – Student Center #370 – (773) 325-1677

Students are also invited to contact me privately to discuss your challenges and how I may assist in facilitating the accommodations you will use in this course. This is best done early in the term and our conversation will remain confidential.

Writing Center

For a more comprehensive statement you can use, visit the Writing Center’s website.

I strongly recommend you make use of the Writing Center throughout your time at DePaul. The Writing Center provides free peer writing tutoring for DePaul students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Writing Center tutors work with writers at all stages of the writing process, from invention to revision, and they are trained to identify recurring issues in your writing as well as address any specific questions or areas that you want to talk about. Visit www.depaul.edu/writing for more information.

Dean of Students Office

The Dean of Students Office (DOS) helps students in navigating the university, particularly during difficult situations, such as personal, financial, medical, and/or family crises. Absence Notifications to faculty, Late Withdrawals, and Community Resource Referrals, support students both in and outside of the classroom. Additionally we have resources and programs to support health and wellness, violence prevention, substance abuse and drug prevention, and LGBTQ student services. We are committed to your success as a DePaul student. Please feel free to contact us at http://studentaffairs.depaul.edu/dos.

Online Teaching Evaluations

Developed by the Driehaus College of Business.

Instructor and course evaluations provide valuable feedback that can improve teaching and learning. The greater the level of participation, the more useful the results. As students, you are in the unique position to view the instructor over time. Your comments about what works and what doesn?t can help faculty build on the elements of the course that are strong and improve those that are weak. Isolated comments from students and instructors’ peers may also be helpful, but evaluation results based on high response rates may be statistically reliable. As you experience this course and material, think about how your learning is impacted.

Your honest opinions about your experience in and commitment to the course and your learning may help improve some components of the course for the next group of students. Positive comments also show the department chairs and college deans the commitment of instructors to the university and teaching evaluation results are one component used in annual performance reviews (including salary raises and promotion/tenure). The evaluation of the instructor and course provides you an opportunity to make your voice heard on an important issue – the quality of teaching at DePaul. Don?t miss this opportunity to provide feedback!

Other Considerations

The conceptual framework for the course.
In its review of recent literature on cognition and learning, the National Resource Council found that "organizing information into a conceptual framework allows for greater 'transfer'; that is, it allows the student to apply what was learned in new situations and to learn related information more quickly" (17).

The specific skills and knowledge students will possess upon leaving the course.
Articulating clear and specific learning outcomes for students will help them develop control over their own learning; they'll be able to grasp what is expected of them, measure their progress with respect to the outcomes; and seek help in the areas that continue to elude them.

The value of the course 
Consider explaining to students how they might use what they learn in your course in their other classes or, better yet, in their everyday lives.

Requirements that your course satisfies.
Informing your students of where the course fits in with their degree program and DePaul career as a whole helps create a sense of continuity and purpose.

Avoid ambiguous grading criteria
“Evaluating student work is hard enough as it is, and students will challenge grades. Make sure you can calculate grades objectively. It’s probably a bad idea to give a lot of weight to a subjective factor such as class participation, unless you’re teaching a small symposium and can clearly justify how you assess each student’s achievement” (Weir, 2009).

Develop a cast-in-stone policy on excuses
“The less wiggle room, the better. My own policy — stated in the syllabus — is that the only accepted excuses for late work or missed exams are documented medical emergencies or requests from an academic dean. No exceptions. All others receive a half letter-grade deduction for every 24 hours (or portion thereof) an assignment is late. Sound unreasonable? I get fewer complaints than when I made case-by-case decisions. Everyone thinks his or her excuse is legit. Do you want to judge? Not I” (Weir, 2009).


Additional Reading

Grunert, J. (1997). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

Nilson, Linda. (2003). “The complete syllabus”. Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company. (Available at the Office for Teaching, Learning and Assessment).

Wasley, Paula. (2008). “Research Yields Tips on Crafting Better Syllabi.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(27), A11.

Wasley, Paula. (2008). “The Syllabus Becomes a Repository of Legalese.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(27), A1.

Write the Syllabus from Carnegie Mellon includes practical information on when to write a syllabus, general advice, and writing creative syllabi.