Creating an Effective Syllabus
UHD faculty are encouraged to create comprehensive syllabi for their courses. A comprehensive syllabus sets the tone for the entire course, tells your learners what, when, and how they will learn the material in the course, communicates what learners should do so they can succeed in the course, tells learners what is expected of them as far as their responsibilities go, and attempts to clear up any confusion with regards to course, program, department, college, and university policies.
Ideas for Motivating Your Students to Refer to the Syllabus
- Have students sign a statement that they have read and understood the syllabus.
- Create a scavenger hunt activity around the syllabus as a first-day ice breaker.
- Conduct a jigsaw activity with the syllabus, assigning students in groups to become
experts on different sections of the syllabus, and then have them re-form new groups
to “teach” their section to members of these second groups (or to the rest of the
class on the whole).
- Give a quiz on the syllabus.
- Share the syllabus in as many places as possible to make it easy to access: upload it to the university’s eSyllabus tool, make
it part of a course packet, post it in Blackboard, email it to the class, and/or post
it on a course website. If your course materials have their own website that you can
add to, post your syllabus there as well.
- If a student asks a question whose answer can be found in the syllabus, turn to another
student, and have them find it and read that section aloud right away.
- Ask your learners for input on the syllabus (through an anonymous online survey, for
example). Have them propose changes if they are passionate about areas of the syllabus
they take issue with.
- Offer a small number of free bonus points to the entire class at the beginning of
the semester, explaining that as long as a student doesn't ask a question whose answer
can be found in the syllabus, the points are theirs to keep.
Here's an excellent video from the University of Saskatchewan on syllabi creation:
Components of a Syllabus
In this section, include the course name, title, number, section information, classroom location, course meeting days and times, instructor name(s), contact information, office location, and office hours. Include all required and optional course materials, and inform learners of where/how they can find the materials. Are there any technology components of the course that are required or recommended? Any necessary hardware and software? Is there any equipment needed for the course? Do students need to provide their own Scantron-style test answer sheets or blue books? Are your course materials copyrighted, are they open educational resources, or does the university own them? University graphics and logos are often used at the beginning of a course syllabus. If you choose to use them, be sure to follow any accompanying style guide and branding regulations. Are there any pre-requisites or co-requisites for this course? Does it satisfy some kind of requirement?
Course Description & Outcomes
Provide the official course description and list of course learning outcomes so students will know what the course is about and what they should be able to do by the end of the course. Be sure to use the official university-adopted course description and outcomes: these typically are not to be changed for a specific section of a course without administrative approval.
Describe the mode of instruction of the course. Is it completely face-to-face? Is it hybrid? If so, define hybrid in the context of this course. Is it flipped? If so, define flipped in the context of this course. Is it fully online? What online components, if any, are there in the course, and where, when, and how are they accessed? What preparation do learners need prior to attending any face-to-face meetings? How, if at all, does this course differ from other courses or even other sections of the same course? Justify the mode of instruction and the course format in terms of student success.
Instructor Beliefs & Assumptions
Share with your learners some of your own teaching philosophy. How do you do what you do, why do you do what you do, and how does that manifest itself in this course? Take a positive approach to encourage all learners to succeed in the course, and explain to them how they will be valued, included members of this learning environment. Why do you enjoy teaching this course and the subject matter in general? What special contributions do your education and experience add to the uniqueness of the course? What promises can you make to your learners? How do you get to know your students and make an effort to help each one succeed? How do you help students get to know and work with one another? Is community engagement a part of your course, why is that important (to you and your learners), and how does it figure into the class? Take a look at the IDEA student course evaluation questions, and take this early opportunity to articulate how your course and your teaching will address the questions asked there: you're doing yourself a favor, and your student evaluations will reflect that!
Class Schedule & Required Assignments
Provide a course calendar that lists dates, what will be done in class (if applicable), what will need to be done for homework in advance of the next class, when major tests/assignments are, page numbers to read & study, etc. What is due when? Create a logically sequenced and fully articulated course schedule with chronological topics listed for each class meeting. Use a table format if possible to make the class schedule easy to read and refer back to. List all important due dates of assignments. Are there any late policies or any other requirements that have the potential to impact grades? Include the last day to drop the course with a W. Take into account any holidays, and what work, if any, is to be done over the holidays. Are there any co-curricular or extra-curricular events and activities? Are there any on-campus events that students in the course might find beneficial?
Alignment of Learning Outcomes with Activities & Assessments
You may not need a specific section of your syllabus to articulate this if it becomes apparent elsewhere, however, it is a good practice to give examples to your learners of how you will be measuring their achievement of the stated goals of the course. This can be in narrative form, or in a table where assignments and assessments are checked off as aligned with the course learning outcomes.
Diversity of Teaching Methods & Assessment Methods
Include a table that shares your method of grade calculation. What components of the course are worth what? How many assignments/assessments are there in each item? Are your grade categories diversified enough to consider and take advantage of learner diversity? Are you choosing the best methods to assess a given learning outcome? Are your learners already familiar with the kind of assessments and assignments found in this course? Describe them. Where can a student go to find out how they are doing in the course?
How Feedback Will Be Provided
Explain to your learners the kinds of feedback they can expect from you on all assignments and assessments. What are the appropriate outlets to get this feedback? Office hours? Written communication? Web conferencing? Telephone? 1:1 meetings in person? Group consultation? What's your turnaround time on providing grades and feedback on assignments and assessments? What is the procedure if a learner feels that there was an error in grading? How will the students know the criteria you will use to measure their performance? Do you use rubrics with criteria specified? Where are these rubrics? Do you provide study guides, and if so, how and where are they accessed?
Opportunities for Learners to Provide Feedback
Do you give your learners any chances to give anonymous feedback on how the course
is going during the semester? If so, when, where, and how? At the end of the semester?
How do you handle the university IDEA evaluations? How do students access those, when,
and where? What do you do with this feedback? What is the student's incentive for
completing these evaluations? Take a look at the IDEA questions as you plan your course,
and see that you cover all of the bases from the beginning as best as you can so that
your evaluations will reflect that.
Course Policies & Procedures
How do you handle late work? What is appropriate behavior in class? What happens if
a student doesn't obtain the course materials? Are there opportunities to resubmit
assignments for a better grade? How should students interact with one another? Is
there an attendance policy? Is there a participation policy? What is the process for
appealing a grade? Is there a chain of command the student is to follow when a problem
occurs? What is your policy on cheating, and how do you discover and handle it? Where
can a student go for technology assistance or research assistance during the course?
Is tutoring available on this subject? Are there any computer labs or centers on campus
that serve students in this course? Is there a particular citation style that you
require in written work? Where can a student go to learn more about this citation
method? Do you have a policy on cell phones, mobile devices, and laptops? Do you allow
recording devices in your class? How are tests conducted, and how do you proctor to
prevent cheating and create a comfortable testing environment? Are tests open-book?
Do students need Scantron-style test answer sheets or blue books for exams? If your
students are required to visit another campus center (testing, etc.), what is the
location, what contact information can you provide, and what are the hours? Do your
students have to work in groups? What are the roles of each group member, and what
kinds of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable?
Absences, Class Cancellations, University Closures, and Disaster Planning
If you are late, how long should people wait around to see if you'll come? What should students do if class is cancelled? Where will class cancellation information be posted? Where will students go for information on university closures due to manmade or natural disasters? How and where will any adjustments made to the course calendar be communicated to the class? How many absences are allowed in your course? Is there a preferred method to communicate these absences? Is there a way to make up absences? What is your policy on tardiness? Do you take attendance, and is it part of the grade?
Are there any campus services you should tell your students about (including location, hours, and contact information)? The campus bookstore? Tutoring? The Writing Center? The library? The Testing Center? Counseling? How would students benefit from any of these services, and what impact would it have on their success in the course?
Program, Departmental, College, & University Policies & Procedures
UHD requires that we include certain sections on all course syllabi (PS 03.A.29).
These include (2.2.1) course identification information, (2.2.2) instructor contact
information, (2.2.3) basic content and evaluation criteria, (2.2.4) course outline
and tentative schedule, (2.2.5) the most recent policy statements on Academic Honesty
and the ADA Statement of Reasonable Accommodations, and (2.2.6) class policies. The
UHD policy information on required elements is located at PS03A29.pdf. See below for the current verbiage and links to Academic Honesty and ADA policies.
In addition to these, there may be college, departmental, or program requirements
as well. Check with your supervisor for the specifics in your respective area.
Americans with Disabilities Act Statement of Reasonable Accommodations
The University of Houston-Downtown complies with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, pertaining to the provision of reasonable academic adjustments/auxiliary aids for students with a disability. In accordance with Section 504 and ADA guidelines, UHD strives to provide reasonable academic adjustments/auxiliary aids to students who request and require them. If you believe that you have a documented disability requiring academic adjustments/auxiliary aids, please contact the Office of Disability Services, One Main St., Suite 409-South, Houston, TX 77002.
It is important for students to understand that no accommodation can be made by an
individual instructor for a student without specific direction from the Office of
Academic Integrity (PS 03.A.19 and UHD Student Handbook)
The UHD Academic Honesty Policy states, "Students must be honest in all academic activities and must not tolerate dishonesty." Students are responsible for doing their own work and avoiding all forms of academic dishonesty. The most common academic honesty violations are cheating and plagiarism. Cheating includes, but is not limited to: Submitting material that is not one's own, Using information or devices that are not allowed by the faculty member, Obtaining and/or using unauthorized material, Fabricating information, Violating procedures prescribed to protect the integrity of a test, or other evaluation exercise, Collaborating with others on assignments without the faculty member's consent, Cooperating with or helping another student to cheat, Having another person take an examination in the student's place, Altering exam answers and requesting that the exam be re-graded, Communicating with any person during an exam, other than the faculty member or exam proctor. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to directly quoting the words of others without using quotation marks or indented format to identify them, using sources of information (published or unpublished) without identifying them, and/or paraphrasing materials or ideas of others without identifying the sources.
In addition to the items required by UHD policy, the University Provost asks that
all faculty include the following sections on their syllabi.
A student of this institution is not under any obligation to purchase a textbook from a university-affiliated bookstore. The same textbook may also be purchased from an independent retailer, including an online retailer.
Your failure to attend class (face to face or hybrid), engage course material (Online only); or make contact with faculty to adequately explain your absence by the 10th class calendar day of the semester will result in your being administratively dropped from this course. Being dropped from this course may affect your enrollment status and/or your financial aid eligibility.
Nilson, Linda (2007). The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
O'Brien, Mills, & Cohen (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.