Initial Publication Date: August 25, 2006

If you have dropped into this Course Design Tutorial from somewhere else, you might wish to start at the introduction, overview, or table of contents.

2.4 Creating the course syllabus

At this stage of the tutorial, you have set overarching goals, organized content, developed a course plan, selected teaching and assessment strategies, and begun to develop some specific assignments and activities. In this section of the tutorial, you will develop your course syllabus, considering the issues raised below, the list of what could be included in a syllabus, and reading a few examples of syllabi.

A detailed syllabus gives students a sense of the nature of the course, what they will be expected to do in the course, and how their performance will be assessed. In many cases, the syllabus is viewed as a contract between you and the students. Whether considered a legal contract or not, a syllabus should be clear about policies and procedures related to the course. Some institutions have specific requirements regarding what should be included on the syllabus.

Three Points to Consider

Goals: A syllabus should be more than the course schedule. You've worked hard to articulate the goals for the course and including them on the syllabus makes it clear to the students what they should be able to do when they have completed the course.

Expectations: While syllabi generally include something about your expectations of students (e.g., assignments, due dates, exams), it is helpful to be specific about other things you expect of students (e.g., your expectations for class participation, attendance, class preparation, their responsibility for learning) and why you have those expectations. It is also important to be clear about what students can expect of you (e.g., the time frame in which you will return assignments, how you will handle late work, that you will start and end class on time).

Tone: A syllabus helps to set the tone for the course. Consider your syllabus from the perspective of a student who is considering taking your class. Do you seem approachable? Welcoming? Organized? Excited about the course?

Syllabus components

  • Information about the instructor (and TA) including name, office number, telephone number, email, and office hours
  • Course title and other course information including meeting times, room number, credits, prerequisite courses or skills, co-requisite courses, course website
  • Titles and authors of required/recommended textbooks
  • Course goals
  • Statement of why students should want to take your course
  • Describe how the course relates to students' lives
  • Course description, which might include the "big questions" this course will addres and/or how the course fits into the discipline and the curriculum
  • Some type of graphic or image that is related to the course content
  • Course schedule including dates of field trips and other scheduled meetings outside class time; this might convey the conceptual structure used to organize the course
  • Information about assignments and assessments including types of assignments and assessments, nature of exams (take home, open book, in-class) due dates, grading criteria and grading scale, rubrics, and so forth)
  • Other course requirements such as attending an office hour or forming study groups
  • Description of students' responsibilities in the learning process
  • How you hope the students will approach the readings, take responsibility for their learning, the amount of study time expected in the course
  • Statement that the syllabus is subject to change
  • Policies on attendance, academic integrity, late assignments, missed exams, cell phones
  • Important dates such as last day to withdraw from the course
  • Suggestions on how to succeed in the course such as strategies for studying, taking tests, and taking notes, information about campus resources
  • Statement regarding accommodation for students with disabilities

Sample Syllabi

Sedimentology and Stratigraphy (Acrobat (PDF) 127kB Jun20 05)

Earth's Environmental Systems (Microsoft Word 34kB Jun20 05)

Geology and Development of Modern Africa (Microsoft Word 62kB Jun20 05)

Planetary Geology (Microsoft Word 6.3MB Jun20 05)

Structural Geology (Microsoft Word 43kB Jun20 05)

Assignment 2.4: Creating your course syllabus

Develop your course syllabus, making sure you include your goals, clearly state what you expect from students and what they can expect from you, and consider the tone you want to convey through the syllabus.

Additional resources

Creating a Syllabus from Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis

Syllabus Components, one of the Teaching Resources: Planning and Policies, Arizona State University, Center for Teaching and Learning

Building a Better Syllabus, Nutshell Notes (Teaching tips in a nutshell - One-page Newsletter for Teaching Excellence), University of Colorado at Denver, Office of Teaching Effectiveness

Syllabus Construction Guide by Lester A. Lefton, University of South Carolina, Institutional Planning and Assessment

Syllabus Construction by Greyson H. Walker, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Teaching Resource Center

Designing a Learning-Centered Syllabus, University of Delaware, Center for Teaching Effectiveness


©2005 On-line Course Design Tutorial developed by Dr. Barbara J. Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Dr. R. Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary) as part of the program On the Cutting Edge, funded by NSF grant DUE-0127310.