A well prepared course syllabus shows students that you take your courses and your teaching seriously. The syllabus is an essential communication tool between you and your students. It helps clarify course assignments and expectations. Additionally, the process of creating a course syllabus helps you organize your content and formulate the essential learning goals of the course.

Below are some general guidelines to keep in mind when developing your syllabus.

  • Gain student buy-in. Students are curious individuals who want to learn, but the value of your course may need to be spelled out for them. What are the exciting questions you will explore? What ideas, perspectives, or knowledge will they gain? What practical or life-long skills will the students gain? Think about the benefits of your course from the student’s perspective include this in your syllabus.
  • Articulate learning outcomes. Create 3-6 general course objectives or outcomes. Think about the essential concepts, knowledge, and disciplinary ways of thinking that your students should learn by the end of the quarter (and that you would be embarrassed if they did not!).
  • Use your main learning outcomes to structure the course. Try not to get caught up in the “coverage problem” of listing topics and trying to get through as much material as possible. Remember depth over breadth is almost always better for student learning. Rather, keep your focus on the essential course outcomes and the different ways students can achieve them.
  • Describe your assignments in detail. List the purpose and expectations of your assignments as well as the logistics of when, where, and how they are due. The more detail you provide, the less time you will spend answering these questions in class. Keep track of students’ questions throughout the year and incorporate them into next year’s syllabus.
  • Don’t expect your students to know your expectations or preferences. Tell them and refer back to the syllabus throughout the quarter.
  • Make sure they read the syllabus. Many students are used to being read the syllabus on the first day of class, so they don’t bother to read it themselves. Some faculty members only answer questions from those who have read the syllabus, or give a short syllabus quiz reinforcing the important details the first week of class.
  • Set guidelines and expectations for due dates and classroom behavior, but avoid making the document too authoritative. If you want to encourage students to think creatively and freely in your course, you do not want to start off with a dictatorial and condescending syllabus.
  • Talk with other faculty members in your department about expected student workloads, sequencing of courses, faculty expectations, and students’ general entry-level knowledge.
  • Post your syllabus on Canvas. If you post your syllabus, do not make changes once the course starts without notifying students.
  • Share your passion. Although your syllabus should be descriptive and informative, it does not have to be a dry and daunting document. Be sure to convey your enthusiasm about your field and pique students’ interest in your course.

In general, a good syllabus provides a comprehensive overview of the course and provides students with the guidelines they need to be successful.

Sample Syllabus Statements and Other Resources

Book consultation time with an OTL Instructional Designer, contact an OTL expert directly, or reach out to otl@du.edu to talk more in-depth about your syllabus.