“A strong syllabus facilitates teaching and learning. It communicates the overall pattern of the course so a course doesn’t feel like disjointed assignments and activities, but instead an organized and meaningful journey.”
Slattery and Carlson, 2005, p.159
Your course syllabus is a critical road map for students to gain an understanding of how your course structure, assignments, and schedule lead to meeting course goals. This includes sharing required materials, expectations for participation, how to reach you, assignment and grading details, and much more. A syllabus can serve many roles in setting the tone for a course including that of contractual agreement, a motivational encouragement, and scheduler.
Learn more about designing an engaging syllabus below:
Syllabus as Contract
Syllabi have come to be thought of as a contract between students and instructors with ever-increasing pressure to cover all of the expectations and anticipated student questions. Rebecca Schuman in her 2014 article The Syllabus Tyrannus comments on how syllabi can become enormously long, in the realm of twenty-five pages. While syllabi may function as a contract regarding policies, it does not serve as a contract in terms of content. Your syllabus should contain language that notifies students that assigned material is subject to change.
Some contractual components may include:
Expectations for attendance and class participation
Policies on late work
Policies on academic honesty and integrity including plagiarism and cheating
Information regarding student’s rights and responsibilities
Grading criteria for subjective assignments (including rubrics)
The instructor’s availability and expected response time on emails/assignments
Policies on providing accommodations for students with disabilities
Information on university support services such as technology support and library resources
Syllabus as Motivator
A syllabus sets the tone for a course by introducing students to the topics to be addressed as well as to the instructor’s background and expertise related to the course. It is often the first impression a student has about a course and possibly the topics included in the course. This introduction should help motivate students to engage in class activities leading up to the course goals as well as help students see connections to other programs, personal, and professional goals.
Instructors can present the course in such a way that encourages students to be excited about it (Harris, 1993). By sharing an overview of the topics included in the course, the purpose of the course, and learning goals, students will be able to make better connections to how they are being assessed. Additionally, the syllabus can help students take responsibility for their own learning (Grunert, 1997). How content in a syllabus is expressed, the tone used, and the inclusion or exclusion of information has an impact on the student and the course (Fink, 2012).
There are several important components you will want to include in your syllabus. Below you will find an outline of the main sections you should include when drafting your syllabus.
Course and Faculty Information:
Include the course title, call number and section number prominently at the top of the syllabus. Below that, include your name, contact information (phone and email) and office hours/virtual office hours platform. Students also appreciate seeing your photo and you can include your background or a brief sketch of your credentials, if you wish.
Add information about the course delivery format and where to access course materials.
This brief description provides students with an overview of the course. It may come directly from the university catalog and may also include your own personal description of the course.
Required Materials (if applicable):
List the required textbook(s) in correct APA formatting, and what edition to buy. Make a distinction between required and optional or recommended materials. Share how they may best obtain them, and any other required supplies beyond the textbook. If there is an ebook option, it is helpful to include a link to this as well.
Provide a brief list of the course goals and learning objectives.
Course Topics and Schedule:
Include a schedule with the specific time frame for each module, or unit of instruction, including the date and time it will become available to your students, the deadlines for any assignments, and the end date and time for the module.
Add information about how you would like students to contact you and the expected turnaround time for receiving a response. Add any specific guidelines regarding electronic notifications.
Assessment and Grading System:
Include a breakdown of how much homework, participation, quizzes, exams, projects, etc. will count toward the final grade. Descriptions of required activities should be included here, although detailed requirements and rubrics may be included separately. Information regarding late assignments and making up work should be included, as well as information regarding online access restrictions to exams or assignments. Your expectations and participation/attendance requirements should also be included.
Include your point system or weighting of assignments as well as the official grading scale used with total points, percentages, and letter grades. The University’s official grading system can be found in the Montclair State University Faculty Handbook.
University Protocols and Resources: Academic Honesty and Integrity: It is very important that you understand Montclair State University’s policy on academic honesty and integrity. The link above provides you with resources to understand what academic standards and plagiarism are and to learn how to take a course responsively and honestly to avoid plagiarism. Student Rights and Responsibilities: Find out more about your rights to access the university’s resources as well as your related responsibilities.
Commitment to Accessibility:
MSU is committed to assisting students with disabilities in receiving accommodations necessary to equalize access. Students who may need accommodations based on disability must self-disclose and initiate the request to the Disability Resource Center (DRC). The student is responsible for providing the DRC with documentation of their disability that meets our guidelines and it will be reviewed. An intake meeting will take place with the student and a DRC counselor to determine reasonable accommodations. Please know that accommodations require time to implement and are not set in place until we meet with a student. For more information, please contact the Disability Resource Center by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (973) 655-5431. You may also visit our Accessibility webpage for more detailed information.
To get help troubleshooting problems using Canvas, contact the Canvas Support Hotline at 855-778-9968 or click on the “Help” link in the upper right corner of the course to contact them via chat or email. You may also find answers to common questions in the Canvas Guides. For General Tech Support contact the University Service Desk at 973-655-7971 or via email at ITservicedesk@montclair.edu You may also find answers to your questions on the IT Service Desk website.
Review The Canvas Syllabus Page below for an example of a syllabus using the Canvas format.
Canvas uses a page with a few additional features to display your syllabus. You may still upload your syllabus as a Word document or PDF and link it to this page. Copying some of the key information from your syllabus to the Canvas page helps provide students with more direct access to the information. Canvas creates a course summary with your assignments listed in chronological order at the bottom of the page. Below is a visual sample of a Canvas Syllabus: