A Course Syllabus Checklist

Chuck Spuches


1 March 2001

creating a course syllabus

 A Menu of Options 

The following is an illustrative list of components to consider including in your course syllabus.  Your decision about which elements to include and how to treat them should be entirely grounded in the content and nature of your course, your priorities, and your students' needs.  Together, these elements comprise a complete road map to effective communication between you and your students and to your collective success.

The basic HTML format of this web page may be easily adapted in order to put your course syllabus on the web. 

Personal Statement

A personal statement is often provided in the form of a letter from the instructor to the student. Typically, a personal statement welcomes your students to your course and takes an approach that stimulates interest and confidence and motivates your students.

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Basic Course Information

This is the most standard element.  Include all pertinent information such as course title, number, and section; credit hours; current year and semester. Instructor(s)/TAs; office, phone numbers, E-mail address; office hours available and other communication arrangements/restrictions. You should also include class location(s) [building, rooms, etc.], schedule time and other class-related meeting times.

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About the Instructor

Biographical information about you and your relationship to this course is most helpful. Share with your students your interests in this course; and what you bring to it.

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Prerequisites (formal and informal)

What other courses should your students must have already taken or must they be taking concurrently? Class standing? What knowledge, skills, and attitudes are assumed/expected? Are there exceptions/exemptions? Diagnostic or placement tests?

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Required Texts and Resources

What are the required texts and/or supplies? Will you provide alternative readings, sample tests/projects/papers, tapes of lectures? Where are they available? Any special instruction/considerations. Special instructions for receiving/sending materials; computer connections?

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Background and Purpose of the Course

"Why (from a student's perspective) do I have to take this course?" How will this particular course benefit the student? What are the practical applications? Overall what will be achieved? How does it fit into the student’s curriculum: how will students use and build upon knowledge, skills, and values developed in prior courses?   How will the content mastered in this course apply to subsequent courses?  How does this course relate to the discipline? To relevant professional practice? 

Regarding non-required courses, you will want to help students to understand why they might want to elect the course.  

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Learning Outcomes - Course Goals and Objectives

After completing this course, what will students know or be able to do?  Focus on your students' perspective rather than on what you -- the instructor -- intend to do during the semester. What knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values is the course designed to enable students to develop -- to what level of mastery or competence? What must students do to convince you that they know or can do what you expect of them at the end of the course (unit or lesson)?

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Course Description and Organization

What is the course all about? How will your students reach the goals and objectives you have outlined? What’s in/what’s not? How is it put together (What’s the sequence of topics)? Why is the content arranged in this order?

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Conceptual Framework

This is often (and most effectively) presented as a visual or graphic representation of the course content.  Its purpose is to convey the relationship of parts to whole and sometimes to portray the flow or sequence of topics.

A few selected resources that will help you and your students to use concept mapping are include in the references section below.

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Course Requirements and Assignments

A description of the assignments, projects, and tests your course will include. Why are these particular assignment included --what’s their purpose? How will students engage them and benefit from them (in this course or beyond)?

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Your Instructional Strategy and Approach

What instructional formats and activities will you employ: lecture, discussion, individual or group work, labs, field trips, readings, case studies, guest lecturers? What’s expected of the student as a good citizen in your course?

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May students make choices with respect to content, pace, activities and assignments? Who will decide – when? What factors/criteria should be considered? Are there provisions for remediation and/or enrichment?

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Grading Policy and Procedures

This need not be lengthy. Descriptions of grading standards, weightings, and criteria for each graded course component is usually sufficient. Any special criteria or grading practices you plan to use should be included.  Using Grading Rubrics is highly recommended. 

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Be aware of college/university and department policies along with your own expectations with respect to academic dishonesty, attendance, participation, missed tests, late assignments, poor performance, and other matters that affect you, your TAs, or your students. (Policy statements may be included in other relevant sections)

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Learning Advice

Tips and suggestions on learning and applying course content. Are there potential trouble spots ahead: curves, steep inclines, poor visibility? How might your students handle these? How much study time is required/recommended for the various course components? What tips on reading textbooks and other materials, taking notes, studying, managing time, participating in classes, taking tests, and completing assignments can you provide?

One helpful online tool that speaks to the notion of learning styles is VARK  - a guide to learning styles (visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic sensory modalities)

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Supplemental Material (unit study guides)

An overview of each major topic/unit/ lesson. More specific objectives for each topic/unit/lesson. Checklist of steps necessary to complete each unit: specific reading assignments (or other assignments and activities such as viewing a videotape); study questions; other exercises and activities that engage your students in active reading, thinking, application. Open-ended thought questions may be provided, along with other types of self-tests.

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List dates, class or lab topics, activities, pre-class preparations (e.g., reading), assignments due, tests. Have you checked school/social calendars for national and religious holidays, vacations, the World Series!

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Instructional Materials for Each Course Unit or Section

The actual material required: copies of overheads, Power Point presentation handouts, articles, readings, worksheets, etc.

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Selected References on Print and Online Syllabi

Altman, H.B. (1989). Syllabus Shares "What the Teacher Wants". The Teaching Professor, Vol. 3, No. 5, 815-86.

Harris, M.M. (1993). Motivating with the Course Syllabus. Forum. Madison, Wisconsin: The National Teaching & Learning Forum, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp1 - 3.

Rubin, S. (1985). Professors, Students and the Syllabus. Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 7, 1985.

Organization: Communicating the Structure. (1988). The Teaching Professor. Vol. 2, No. 9, 67-68.

Related online resources

Concept Mapping is a useful technique for noting information. http://www.mindtools.com/mindmaps.html

A concept map is a special form of a web diagram useful for exploring knowledge and gathering and sharing information. http://www.graphic.org/concept.html

These are examples of actual concept maps from students, staff and faculty http://classes.aces.uiuc.edu/ACES100/Mind/c-m4.html

Graphic Organizers (also called Mind Maps) are a pictoral way of organizing notes and important information you need to understand, remember, or write about. http://home.earthlink.net/~tsdobbs/Graphic_Organizers/graphic_organizers.html

The concept mapping homepage

There are four major categories of concept maps http://classes.aces.uiuc.edu/ACES100/Mind/c-m2.html

The Discovery System Online (DSO) is the companion resource for the course, Contemporary Issues in Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES 100) from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. http://classes.aces.uiuc.edu/ACES100/

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Selected Examples of Syllabi on the WWW

Ted Dibble's Physical Chemistry II course (FCH 361 ) http://www.esf.edu/chemistry/dibble/fch361.htm

ESF College-wide Seminar on College Teaching (EFB 797   or  FOR 797). Please note that a complete course guide is distributed in class. http://web.syr.edu/~cspuches/teaching.htm

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Chuck Spuches, Associate Dean
College of Environmental Science & Forestry
Syracuse, NY 13210

Phone: 315-470-6810
Fax: 315-470-6890
E-mail: cspuches@esf.edu