Getting Off on the Right Foot: Syllabus Development

Even before the first day of class, professors have the ability to make a good impression on their students. How? Through the development of a well-designed, effective syllabus. The syllabus should contain a few items, including an outline of the subjects and topics that will be covered, and overall it should give students a feel for the course. This article will walk readers through the necessary steps to constructing an excellent syllabus.

An effective syllabus should perform four functions. First, your syllabus should communicate course requirements and expectations of students. Second, your syllabus should eliminate ambiguities about policies and procedures for the class, which will be touched on later. Third, the syllabus should present a clear course plan, which is the most crucial part of the document - it allows students to see where the class will be headed and what they can expect to learn. Fourth, and finally, a syllabus should set a tone of high expectations for the class.

The key to developing an effective syllabus is having your course plan laid out (view this article here for some good tips on course planning). After the course plan has been developed, writing a syllabus follows quite naturally. The syllabus should include these important items:

  • Course description and general goals for the course - the course description describes what students can expect to learn in this class and what students should be able to do by the end of the course.

  • Contact information - be sure to include the your email and office number at the minimum. Depending on the size of the course, some professors feel comfortable providing a phone number as well, but your mileage may vary.

  • List of assessments and assignments - this list should include both graded assessments and reading assignments that may not be for a grade. List when each assessment or assignment will be due, and be sure to note the grade percentage, if any, that will be assigned to each assignment.

  • Class policies and procedures - this article can provide help on developing important class policies and procedures, like attendance policies, classroom technology policies, and class cancellation policies.

  • Course plan - this should be developed before you begin constructing your syllabus and should consist of a description of the goals of each class session and what activities will occur during each class.

Your syllabus should be available at minimum by email, but some professors like handing out a physical paper version of the syllabus on the first day of class at well. With these tools and tips, you can rest assured that your syllabus, whether it's your first or fiftieth, will be effective and efficient.