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What to Include in the Syllabus: A Guide for New Instructors

Received a teaching acceptance letter – Check

Attended faculty orientation – Check

Figured out where your classroom is on campus – Check

Grabbed an instructor copy of the book – Check

What else do you need for your first day?

A syllabus.

Whether you’re building a brand-new syllabus, updating an old one, or customizing your standard departmental one there are a few things that your syllabus can and should include.

University Requirements

Get to know your university’s policies. There are often syllabi requirements detailing instructor contact and course information. These typically include:

Instructor Details

  • Instructor’s title, name, and email
  • Office location and availability (office hours and/or online availability)

Course Details

  • Course number, name, and prerequisites
  • Term, dates, and location
  • Required textbooks, editions, digital materials, and ISBNS
  • Other required materials (course reserves, learning platforms, etc.)

Detailed Descriptions

After you’ve covered the basics in an easily accessible format, it’s time to add a bit of clarity about you as the instructor and what the course is all about. In these more detailed write-ups, you’ll be able to set the tone and expectation for the course while creating an approachable atmosphere for learning. This is a helpful area to include:

  • An instructor bio
  • The course description
  • Objectives and anticipated learning outcomes

Course Tools & Instructional Resources

One of the most tedious parts of any instructor’s experience is to become the tech team or “help desk.” Thankfully, our universities and higher education partners (publishers, LMS platforms, and digital learning systems like McGraw-Hill’s Connect) have their own tech support—and that’s exactly where we should be sending students. Save time, energy, and avoid frustration for yourself and students alike by taking some of the non-classwork off your plate and including these resources on your syllabus: 

  • College or university’s tech support information
  • LMS and other learning platforms’ details and help links
  • Publisher or digital program tech support information
  • Writing centers and course-specific (i.e. math, psychology) assistance
  • Disability resources and link to accommodation requests

Assignment Instructions

One of the most critical elements in a syllabus are the very specific instructions students will need to follow in order to complete assignments and activities in the course. In this section, you might include:

  • Where to locate assignment instructions and resources
  • How to submit assignments
  • How to verify assignments have successfully uploaded if submitting online

Academic Integrity

In our technological age, plagiarism (intentional and unintended) and cheating is ever present in the classroom. It’s important to spell out the university’s Academic Integrity policy, define what plagiarism and cheating are, offer links to helpful citation and source integration resources, and explain the course and institutional consequences for academic dishonesty.

Participation

Announcing expectations and guidelines for participation is important, and having them in written form is vital. This section of the syllabus may be where you send students as a reminder for upcoming group activities or where you refer when students go “inactive.” Some of these guidelines may include:

  • Classroom participation
  • Discussion board interaction
  • Modules or group activities
  • Peer Review expectations

If you include a participation grade in your assessment, outline the parameters for success or any penalties that might come from non-participation. This may include:

  • Classroom or online discussion (or lack thereof)
  • Late penalties (and over what duration)  
  • Revision opportunities or make-ups
  • Excuses (acceptable vs. unacceptable)
  • Incompletes and university protocol (with links)

Grade Criteria

Students care about their grades above all else.  Make sure your grade criteria section is fully fleshed out, including speaking to your department to see if there is already a grade evaluation chart available. Make sure to  include:

  • Expectations for each letter grade
  • Percentage range associated with each letter grade
  • Any standardized departmental grading rubrics or materials
  • Your policy on extra credit  

Assignment Schedule

Near the end of the syllabus, it’s helpful to include a full assignment schedule with due dates. Time zones are also important to include, especially if teaching an online course. In this section, you’ll need to list:

  • Schedule of assignments and activities
  • Point values attributed to each
  • Specific due dates and times
  • High-level assessments like exams, presentations, portfolio submissions, etc.
  • Any lab days or unique assignments that are due within a specific timeframe

You might even decide to list the full course schedule with a day-to-day breakdown of classroom discussion and topics, homework, and classroom activities.

Setting a syllabus up with the basics at the top of the syllabus and the course schedule at the bottom helps encourage students to keep scrolling down and presumably reading the entire outline of the course and policies. And lastly, since syllabi should emulate the effort we as instructors hope to see from students throughout the semester, it’s important that we include comprehensive (and proofread) details upfront to save time and set clear expectations for everyone.


REFERENCE

D’Antonia, M. (2007, July 19). If your syllabus could talk. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/If-Your-Syllabus-Could-Talk/46604

About the Author

Jennifer Jeremiah is an English instructor at Central Michigan University (CMU) where she has taught composition since 2009 in both face-to-face and online platforms. She now teaches fully online through CMU’s Global Campus and has partnered with McGraw-Hill as a Digital Faculty Consultant since 2014, helping to assist instructors bridge the communication and efficiency gap within the online teaching world. Jennifer lives in Williamston, Michigan with her husband and three daughters.

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