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Creating A Syllabus

A good syllabus serves multiple purposes. In the most general sense, it is a reference document and a teaching tool, see The Syllabus as a Teaching Tool. The syllabus is the first step in creating a welcoming course climate. It indexes the important elements, events and policies for the course. It’s also a planning document, helping both instructors and students stay on track. The syllabus can also help set the tone for the course; a well-organized, legible syllabus puts students at ease because it suggests that the professor has been thoughtful in her choices for the course.

Most importantly, perhaps, the syllabus is a teaching tool. It helps makes sense of your course and indeed your discipline for students who are likely unfamiliar with things you, as an expert, take for granted. The things that you easily perceive as signposts, connections, obvious landmarks, and “the big picture” may not exist for students, who experience the information and concepts in your discipline as one large jungle, or a meandering maze of details without point or purpose. A syllabus is an excellent tool for providing a necessary overview, which, like a good map, can be referred to again and again.

What Goes into a Good Syllabus?

  1. Course Details: Title, classroom, and time.
  2. Instructor Information: Office, office hours, phone, email, etc.
  3. Course Description and Rationale: What is the course about? How does it connect with the rest of the curriculum? How will students benefit from this course?
  4. Student Learning Outcomes: What will students gain from this course? Begin your list of learning outcomes with “By the end of this course, students will be able to…”, and connect outcomes to …
    • Program Learning Outcomes: Build context by linking students to your program’s learning outcomes.
    • Institutional Learning Outcomes: Show how your course contributes to UMBC’s Functional Competencies.
  5. Format and Procedures: How will the course be structured? What teaching techniques will you use?)
  6. Course Requirements: What readings, participation, tests, papers, projects, etc. will help students achieve the course outcomes?
  7. Grading: What will be graded and when? How are grades distributed among the assignments? What rubrics are used to assess work? Do you offer options for revision?
  8. Course Policies:
  9. Inclusive Excellence: Visit The Diverse Classroom and use the Inclusion By Design worksheet to ensure your syllabus contributes to a healthy classroom climate. Consider including a diversity statement and offering students options for self-identification by inviting them to designate personal pronouns.
  10. Ground Rules: Consider leaving space to collaborate on behavior expectations; research suggests that fewer negative behaviors emerge when students contribute to the rules.
  11. Course schedule: Includes class meeting dates, topics, readings, problems, assignments, test or presentation dates, final exam schedule, etc.
  12. Suggestions for Success: What learning resources should students know about to succeed in your course? What strategies have worked well for past students? What pitfalls should they avoid?

How Do I Get Started?

Check out sample syllabi – Colleagues are often willing to share their syllabi, and some departments keep syllabi on file (ask a departmental administrative assistant for help). They may even have syllabi for the very course you will be teaching.

Consider course design – The syllabus can only be as clear as the class is well designed. What are your goals for the course? What should students know, do and value by the end of the course? Once you have made these important decisions, writing the syllabus become a matter of communicating this information to the students.

Get feedback from others – Ask trusted colleagues to take a look at your syllabus, or schedule a syllabus consultation with the FDC.

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