There is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing a syllabus. The structure of a course syllabus will differ depending on instructor, course topic, method of instruction, departmental policies and practices, and institutional guidelines. However, there are ways to structure a syllabus that are more effective than others. We provide suggestions and recommendations in the syllabus toolkits.
About the Syllabus Toolkit
A syllabus serves many purposes and is more than a simple contract or informational document for your students. Your syllabus should:
- Welcome students to your course
- Provide essential information (such as the learning objectives, required prerequisites, required course materials, and relevant course/departmental/college policies) to help students self-assess their readiness for the course and decide if the course is a good fit for their educational goals
- Outline the students’ responsibilities for successful coursework and describe the methods of assessment, which are the strategies by which student progress towards proficiency with the learning objectives will be evaluated and how/when the information will be provided to students
- Serve as a resource for students throughout the course to keep track of due dates, assignments, expectations, and available resources outside the classroom to support their well-being and academic success
- Set the broader context for learning while helping your colleagues understand how your course aligns with the curriculum for impacted majors; for example, this information might be used for departmental curriculum mapping and accreditation purposes.
Each toolkit contains a syllabus template that is devised to help you structure your entire syllabus in ways that communicate critical information to your students about how to succeed in your course. Please select the syllabus toolkit, and associated template, based on the course type of class you are teaching (on campus, synchronous online, or asynchronous online).
The COVID-19 SYLLABUS STATEMENTS is a supplement to the templates that pays special attention to procedures and resources relevant to instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please consider adding these elements to your syllabus this year.
Syllabus FAQs tied to evidence
Does Syllabus Tone Matter?
A research article by Gurung and Galardi (2021) examined factors affecting student help-seeking behaviors in the classroom. Findings show that both the tone of the syllabus (warm tone) and the presence of statements normalizing help-seeking behavior (mental health statements) can reduce stigma and positively influence students’ intentions to ask instructors for help with wellness and academic success.
Link to article: https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628321994632
Concerned about Syllabus Length?
A research study by Harrington and Gabert-Quillen (2015) examined student perceptions of syllabus length. The findings might surprise you! Students actually preferred a longer syllabus (9- to 15-pages in length) with all the assignment and policy details included.
Link to article: https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000040
These findings are consistent with the exemplar syllabi examples published on the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Project Syllabus website:
This professional resource suggests that instructors “err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion” when it comes to syllabus design.
Syllabus as “Contract”?
Ludy and colleagues (2016) compared students’ impressions of a text-rich, contractual syllabus to a graphic-rich, engaging syllabus and found that while both were perceived positively, the more engaging syllabus was considered more appealing and comprehensive by students. Students also reported that the more engaging syllabus motivated more interest in the class and the instructor. Notably, increased student interest is a predictor of improved academic achievement (Schiefele, Knapp, & Winteler 1992), suggesting design of a more engaging syllabus may be an effective strategy by which instructors could foster student success!
Link to article: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1134516
SEP First Day Project
The Center for the Advancement of Teaching Excellence (CATE) has partnered with the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs (VPUAAP) in an exciting opportunity supported by APLU called the Student Experience Project (SEP). The SEP is a collaborative of university leaders, faculty, researchers, and national education and improvement organizations committed to innovative, evidence-based practices that increase degree attainment by transforming the college student experience and creating equitable learning environments.
Nine UIC faculty members are currently participating in the SEP’s First Day Project, an effort focused on improving the messages that students receive through syllabi and the first day of class that support social belonging, growth mindset, and an equitable learning experience. The First Day Project is a national project that is one of the first of its kind and which has the potential to positively impact the student experience and the academic outcomes of thousands of students.
As a participant in the First Day Project, UIC is working with other institutions of higher education as part of the Peer Learning Network. The network is improving the messages and signals students receive on the first day of class to foster belonging, growth mindset and purpose.
Currently, CATE’s instructional design team is working to integrate the recommendations of the First Day Project into the new Syllabus Toolkit, which should be available on our website later this summer.