Creating a syllabus that works for you and your students

Creating a syllabus that works for you and your students

The University of Alaska Anchorage Faculty Handbook states: 

"A course syllabus will be given to each student at the first class meeting. The syllabus shall explain the teacher's expectations of students, the grading criteria that will be followed, the extent of the material to be covered, the class objectives and student learning outcomes, the attendance policy, and a bibliography."

With the syllabus, you set the tone and introduce your students to the purpose and structure of the course. Your syllabus is an evolving document that represents the way you expect your students to interface with you, each other, and the course content. That is, it reflects your educational philosophy and pedagogy. It also states the course learning objectives and how they align with program learning outcomes, institutional goals and outcomes, and/or professional standards.

Because you and your students will refer to this document repeatedly throughout the term, it deserves careful consideration and deliberate design.

How can I be sure my students read and understand the syllabus?

The time and effort you’ve put into the development of an effective syllabus doesn’t matter if the syllabus isn’t read or integrated into the class. An effective, well-developed, detailed syllabus not only helps students see that you’re organized and are there to support their learning (Saville, et al, 2010). There is also evidence to suggest that students’ academic success may, to a certain extent, depend on their understanding of this cornerstone document (Raymark, et al, 2002). Here are some strategies that may help ensure students are connecting with the syllabus in a way that will support their performance in your course.

  • Incentivize reading and comprehension of the syllabus

It’s fairly common for faculty to offer a quiz or another small assignment based on the syllabus, but be sure that you’re doing so in a way that makes it worth your students’ time and effort by giving it a reasonable point value. Becker and Calhoun (1991) noted “the potential benefits of a syllabus quiz are limited to those who take the quiz seriously,” and they recommended faculty make syllabus quizzes part of the regular course work, not extra credit. In addition, they recommended making the points contingent upon accurate responses. You may want to go beyond mere completion of a quiz (and earning points for the number of responses they get right) to completion and correction to earn points.

  • Emphasize elements of the syllabus you want students to see as important.

Becker and Calhoon’s (1999) study of students at four different Midwestern universities revealed substantial differences in student and faculty perceptions of what was “important” in a syllabus. In fact, there were even differences among student perceptions depending on age and experience in college. In short, you might believe your statement about plagiarism is important, a masterpiece that reflects your teaching philosophy and the sanctity of academic work, but students may fly right past it as they look for information about exams, the attendance policy, and whether you accept late work. If academic integrity is a foundational principle of your course, emphasize this with students. Place it in a prominent position in the syllabus and, if you’re using a syllabus quiz, ask a question about it. Better still, refer back to your academic integrity statement and to the syllabus periodically throughout the term, emphasizing elements that are important. Doing so will remind students of the centrality of the syllabus and that items related to their academic success can be found in that document.

  • Use your syllabus to reinforce course, program, or general education learning outcomes.

Do you want our graduates to be able to read critically, interpret information, or analyze implications of various directives and policies? In English classes at Mercy College, Charlotte Kent uses a netiquette exercise designed to help students develop writing skills and work on synthesizing and interpreting information. Kent’s students must read the syllabus, as well as a piece on net-based communication. They submit responses to key questions, doing so in a way that demonstrates competency in important net-based communication skills. If such an assignment was integrated into a course at UAA, it could be used to connect to and reinforce the General Education learning outcome in written communication, helping students develop their skills at writing in clear, effective ways that are adapted to a particular audience’s needs and expectations.   

What elements are included in a well-designed syllabus?

A well-designed syllabus includes the course learning outcomes and activities, all materials required for the course, and clear expectations to ensure student success. It is also important to list all technologies used in the course -- both hardware and software.

Check to see if your department, college, or campus has a preferred or required syllabus template.

  • About the Course
    • Course number, name, section, CRN, # of credits, grade basis, semester and year
    • Faculty contact information
        • Faculty preferred communication method and office hours
        • Turn around time on email and correspondence
    • Course meeting dates, time and location
    • Course design/delivery (e.g. Blackboard Learn & Collaborate usage)
    • Course description and prerequisites from the academic catalog
    • Everything your students need to be successful
        • Texts and materials, required and optional
        • Technology requirements, hardware and/or software (e.g. computer, headset with mic, clicker system, any course specific technology)
        • Online testing and/or proctored testing requirements
        • Other expectations (e.g. service learning components, field trips)
    • Instructor goals (from course content guide)
    • Student learning outcomes and course objectives (from course content guide)
        • Recommended: alignment with program outcomes, state standards, national standards, etc.
    • Explanation of pedagogical approach and/or teaching philosophy
    • List of course activities and assignments
    • Grading criteria and grading scale
    • Syllabus disclaimer
        • The instructor reserves the right to make adjustments to the syllabus as needed. It is the responsibility of the student to keep up with any changes. All changes will be posted in Blackboard.
    • Course calendar document that can be modified as needed
  • Course Policies
    • Attendance policy and late & make up assignments/tests policy
    • Communication (e.g. email, netiquette)
    • Student behavior (e.g. cell phone use, behavior expectations)
    • Writing standards and etiquette (e.g. for papers, email and online discussion boards)
    • Class cancellation and back-up plans
    • Military students, called to active duty or deployment
    • Religious holidays
  • College/Department Specific Information
    • Mission and core values
    • College writing style requirements
    • College/program resources available (e.g. labs, tutors, clubs, etc.)
    • Advising
  • University Policies
    • Student Code of Conduct & Academic Integrity
    • Academic policies and processes
    • University email account
    • Smoke-free campus
    • Title IX
  • Student Support Services
    • UAA/APU Consortium Library (UAA campus and web resources)
    • Disability Support Services
    • Emergency Support: Food Cache and More
    • UAA Care Team
    • UAA Learning Commons
    • Student Health and Counseling
    • UAA Information Technology Services
    • eLearning & Distance Student Services (online student support)
  • Safety
    • Emergency notifications (e.g. weather closures)
    • Ensuring a Climate of Equity, Respect & Safety
    • After hours safety on campus
    • Campus police/Call team (campus specific)
    • Building evacuations
    • Safety in online environments
    • Password/email safety
  • Other Items
    •  Bibliography
  • Syllabus Example Text

    Example Text

    Copy and paste any of the information below to add to or update your course syllabi; please check website links each semester to ensure they have not changed. Accessibility guidelines differ for online and print documents. Check for the proper formatting of hyperlinks depending on whether your syllabus is primarily a printed or online document.

    University Policies

    Academic Policies and Procedures
    It is the responsibility of the individual student to become familiar with the policies and regulations of the University of Alaska Anchorage in this catalog. Select the following link for more information: https://catalog.uaa.alaska.edu/academicpoliciesprocesses/.

    UAA Student Code of Conduct, Ethical Behavior & Academic Integrity
    Students are expected to know and follow the Student Code of Conduct (https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/ students/dean-of-students/ student-conduct/code.cshtml). If an instructor has reason to believe that plagiarism, cheating, or academicdishonesty, as defined in the Student Code of Conduct, has occurred, the matter will be referred to the Office of the Dean of Students. If there is a finding from the Dean of Students that plagiarism, cheating, or academic dishonesty has occurred, academic sanctions imposed by the instructor may include substantial reduction of the grade for the assignment, 0 (no credit) for the assignment, or a failing grade for the course.

    UAA Care Team
    If you or someone you know needs support, is distressed, or exhibits concerning behavior, make a referral to the Care team. The UAA Care Team's purpose is to promote a safe and productive learning, living and working environment by addressing the needs of students. As your faculty, I may contact the Care Team to seek support for you. I encourage you to fill out a referral if you or a classmate may be in need of help. Select the following link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/students/care-team

    Title IX
    The University of Alaska is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution.  The University of Alaska does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, citizenship, age, sex, physical or mental disability, status as a protected veteran, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, parenthood, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation or belief, genetic information, or other legally protected status. The University's commitment to nondiscrimination, including against sex discrimination, applies to students, employees, and applicants for admission and employment. Contact information, applicable laws, and complaint procedures are included on UA's statement of nondiscrimination available at www.alaska.edu/titleIXcompliance/nondiscrimination

    Smoke Free Campus
    Out of respect for others and the campus environment, tobacco use and smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes and similar products are prohibited on university property. (UA BOR Policy P05.12.102).

    Emergency Support: Food Cache and More
    Any student who faces challenges securing adequate food or safe housing should be assured that the University has resources that may be helpful. Not being able to meet your most basic needs can adversely influence your ability to meet your academic goals. If you experience food insecurity, please connect with the UAA Emergency Food Cache via the Student Health and Counseling Center in Rasmuson 120 or by phone at 907-786-4040. For other types of situations, various resources may be investigated through the Dean of Students Office in Rasmuson 122 or 907-786-1214. If you are comfortable doing so, don’t hesitate to connect with me as your professor. This will enable me to help guide you to resources that may be appropriate depending on the nature of the situation. 

    Student Support Services

    UAA/APU Consortium Library
    This library serves students, staff and faculty of UAA and APU. They provide in person and online resources for all subjects taught at UAA. Take the virtual library tour at:  libguides.consortiumlibrary.org/virtualtour

    UAA Disability Support Services
    If you experience a disability or suspect you experience a disability, please contact Disability Support Services to arrange for disability related accommodation. UAA is committed to providing equal access to learning opportunities to students with documented disabilities. To ensure access to this class, and your program, please contact DSS to engage in a confidential conversation about the process for requesting accommodations. Accommodations are not provided retroactively. Students are encouraged to register with DSS as soon as they begin their program. UAA encourages students to access all resources available through DSS for consistent support and access to their programs. More information can be found online at www.uaa.alaska.edu/dss, or by contacting the office at 907-786-4530 (voice) or 907-227-9609 (text only).

    UAA Learning Commons
    The Learning Commons provides UAA students with resources to achieve academic success. Located in the Sally Monsurad Hall (SMH) they house a writing center, math lab, tutoring resources, the Academic Coaching Center, the Center for Language Learning, additional computer labs and the Math Emporium. Select the following link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/academics/community-and-technical-college/departments/learning-commons/

    Student Health and Counseling
    The mission of the Student Health and Counseling Center is to promote the optimal health of our university community by providing access to high quality and affordable primary outpatient health care, preventative health care, individual counseling, consulting, outreach and health education. 
    It is through this pursuit that we support the mission of the University of Alaska Anchorage and the growth of each individual. Select the following link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/students/student-health-counseling-center/

    UAA IT Services
    IT Services Call Center is staffed 7 days a week, 363 days a year. They can assist you with password and PIN reset, software understanding, technical requests, as well as general questions about technology. In Anchorage: 907-786-4646, option 1, toll free in Alaska: 1-877-633-3888, option 1. S
    elect the following link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/about/administrative-services/departments/information-technology-services/

    University Email Accounts
    UAA uses email to communicate with students on many important matters. The university automatically assigns each student an official UAA email account at the time of admission to the university for certificate/degree-seeking students and at the time of registration for all other students. Students are responsible for knowing and, when appropriate, acting on the contents of all university communications sent to their official UAA email accounts. Select the following link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/email.cshtml

    Safety

    Safety
    Safety is a priority at UAA. All members of the academic community are encouraged to take responsibility for their own safety by taking the time to locate the nearest exits and emergency telephones when they are in campus buildings. Safety concerns may be brought to the attention of UAA faculty or staff, or the University Police at 907-786-1120 (V/TTY). For more safety information and the most recent campus crime report, visit the webpage at www.uaa.alaska.edu/safety.

    Ensuring a Climate of Equity, Respect & Safety
    The UAA Office of Equity and Compliance affirms its commitment to a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which educational programs, employment, and activities are free of discrimination and harassment. Our staff administers and ensures compliance with university policies, procedures, and programs on equal opportunity, discrimination, affirmative action, discriminatory harassment, sexual misconduct, stalking, and retaliation. For more information, see https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/about/equity-and-compliance/.

    Emergencies
    The UA Alerts Notification System makes every effort to release information about emergencies (incidents) that may disrupt university operations. Select the following link for more information: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/about/administrative-services/departments/university-police-department/ua-alerts.cshtml

    Building Evacuations
    In the event of a building evacuation, we will reconvene at an announced location. A building evacuation does not mean class is canceled.

    Safety in Online Environments
    UAA will never send you an unsolicited email asking you for your password or other personal information. If you receive such a message, please delete it. If you have any concerns, contact the IT Call Center at 907-786-4646, menu option 1, or via email at callcenter@uaa.alaska.edu. If you experience cyber bullying, cyberstalking, or other inappropriate conduct as part of your involvement in a UAA class, please notify your instructor immediately.

    After Hours Safety on Campus
    Nighttime Safety. Students should use the buddy system when going in and out of buildings at night. Walk in well-lit areas. Main campus: University phones can be used to reach the Campus Police at 907-786-1120 or a cell phone at 907-786-1120. There are emergency phones located by the entrances of each building.

How do I ensure my syllabus is accessible to all students?

In a nutshell, federal laws require that students with disabilities “must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services” as students without disabilities, with “substantially equivalent ease of use” within the same timeframe. To ensure your syllabus or other course documents are accessible to all students you can use the following guidelines using Microsoft Word 2013+ to save your documents in the most universal accessible format. Go to Creating Accessible Documents for tutorial instructions.

You can find more information regarding accessible documents and ADA requirements at: Accessibility: Creating Online Course Content

What resources are available to assess my syllabus?

The following resources can help you assess and improve your syllabus:

  • Syllabus Rubric, Cornell University, Center for Teaching Excellence 
    This rubric provides a simple way to assess some of the basic elements that are helpful to include in a syllabus. Another version, found here, has been adapted by SUNY Buffalo.
  • University of Virginia Syllabus Rubric 
    This rubric assesses the degree to which a syllabus promotes a learning orientation for students (i.e. the syllabus goes beyond "content orientation" to "learning orientation"). It involves both qualitative and quantitative measures and has been tested extensively for validity and reliability.

Check with the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence (CAFE) for workshops or consultations on creating a learner-centered syllabus.

References

Bart, M. (2015). A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning. Retrieved from

     http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/a-learner-centered-syllabus-helps-set-the-tone-for-learning/

Becker, A. H. & Calhoon, S. K. (1999). What Introductory Psychology Students Attend to on a Course Syllabus, Teaching of Psychology,

     26:1, 6-11, DOI: 10.1207/ s15328023top2601_1.

Goldrick-Rab, S. (2017). Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus. Retrieved from

     https://medium.com/@saragoldrickrab/basic-needs-security-and-the-syllabus-d24cc7afe8c9

Kent, C. (2017). The Netiquette Solution to Teaching the Syllabus. Retrieved from www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/01/31/getting-

     students-actually-read-class-syllabus-teaching-them-netiquette-essay.

Quality Matters Rubric Standards, Fifth Edition, (2014). Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org, as a licensed QM Institution.

Raymark, P. H. & Connor-Greene, P. A. (2002). The Syllabus Quiz. Teaching of Psychology, 29:4, 286-288. Retrieved from

     http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15328023TOP2904_05.

Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016) Syllabus Design Guide. Retrieved from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/syllabus-

     design/.

Saville, B. K., Zinn, T. E., Brown, A. R., & Marchuk, K. A. (2010). Syllabus Detail and Students’ Perceptions of Teacher Effectiveness,

     Teaching of Psychology, 37: 3, 186-189. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00986283.2010.488523.

United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Frequently Asked Questions About the June 29, 2010, Dear Colleague Letter.

     Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-ebook-faq-201105.pdf.

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