Important related information
The syllabus you design is the single most important document in your course. It includes topics such as the goals and outcomes of the course, prerequisites and expectations, course policies (e.g., attendance, grading and evaluation criteria, nondiscrimination, ADA, etc.), required materials (textbooks, software, etc.), topics to be covered, a calendar, assignments, and sometimes a bibliography. Help students learn to read and regularly use their syllabus.
Your syllabus minimally must have these three main sections:
- Your Course Overview should include all the common elements—course number and title, your name and contact information, course description and expectations, materials, costs, etc.—modified for your individual course and also available on your course’s Canvas site. The information should be discussed on the first day of class and referred to periodically throughout the course.
- The Common Policies of the Writing and Communication Program (presented on a separate website page accessible by students) should be referred to and linked to in your syllabus, but not necessarily listed in full. The Common Policies should have a main section, listing all the categories of the policies and providing the link to the full version of the policies. The policies should be discussed on the first day of class and referred to periodically throughout the course. When your students are doing reflections, they can check the course outcomes listed in the Common Policies to determine what they’re accomplishing. You must treat the Common Policies as core policies in your course.
- The Assignment Summary and Course Calendar on your syllabus should summarize all your course projects and assignments as well as provide a calendar for the work and due dates in your course. This calendar should be established at the beginning of the course. You may need to update it during the semester (e.g., deleting or modifying an assignment); make sure to post the updates.
Your syllabus is important. It’s a public-facing document that will be read/reviewed by the students in your classes—and potentially by other people, including students in other classes; parents and other relatives as well as family neighbors and friends; administrators at all levels; academic and athletic advisors; coaches; journalists; PR folks; legislators; peers and administrators at other institutions; and so on.
- Your syllabus sets the tone for the course. It should be professional in design, complete in content, logical in labels and organization, and easy to navigate. It should anticipate questions students (and others) might have about your course.
- Students must have access to a complete syllabus, including a general course schedule that includes the due dates of major projects, prior to or on the first day of class. You are encouraged to provide students with digital access to your syllabus; distributing paper syllabi is not.
- You should regularly refer to the syllabus during the semester. Part of what you’re doing is modeling for students that they should be using their syllabus as a tool for planning, reviewing, and reflecting.
- Please do not refer to your syllabus as a contract. It’s not a contract. A contract is a legal agreement between two (or more) parties that includes a promise (by both parties) to perform, is enforceable, etc. Your syllabus is a guide to your expectations and a summary of course content and structure.
Best Practices in Composing Your Syllabus
- Provide an Availability Statement. As a way to manage your time and stress level, use the syllabus to establish boundaries on communicating with students, providing a statement that specifies when students can expect email responses. Our recommendation: Say you’ll respond to emails within 24 hours during the week and 48 hours on the weekend. You might also indicate that you stop checking email at a certain time (6pm, say) every evening, and so will not see emails sent after that time until the next morning. Here is a useful resource to consider.
- Prioritize the Writing/Communication Outcomes of the Course. Compose your course description so that you describe the focus of the course as about learning to be a better multimodal communicator—a better writer, speaker, designer, and collaborator as well as a better user of technology. The focus of the course—multimodal composition—should have prominence, for example, by location (top), sequence (first), or visual emphasis (box, color, rules, font). One way to do create the appropriate emphasis is to put your course goals paragraph (focusing on multimodal composition) first and your thematic overview paragraph (focusing on your thematic concept or topic) second.
So, do not do something like this:
This course focuses on X in contemporary world literature. In the course, you will study X and refine your critical thinking and communication strategies about various aspects of X. As you investigate X (including its aesthetics, forces that shape it, and its cultural role), you will employ WOVEN strategies to create diverse projects about X: analysis and reflection papers, websites, curated digital collections, apps, blog posts and responses, feature articles, newsletters, campaign pitches, and posters.
Instead, consider the shift in emphasis illustrated in this example:
This course provides opportunities for you to become a more effective communicator as you refine your thinking, writing, speaking, designing, collaborating, and reflecting. You’ll develop strategic processes for various media and create artifacts in multiple WOVEN modes (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal). In this section of the course, you’ll investigate X (including aesthetics, economic and environmental forces, and socio-cultural influences) as you employ WOVEN modes to create diverse projects about X: analysis and reflection papers, websites, curated digital collections, apps, blog posts and responses, feature articles, newsletters, campaign pitches, and posters.
- Provide Guidance about What Constitutes Participation. Be explicit about what particular actions count as participation in your class. See, for example, this statement:
My goal is to involve you in the learning process. Your comments and analysis will provide much of the substance of our class. To this end, your participation will be assessed on three main criteria:
- Quality and Quantity of Contributions to Class Sessions. Do you participate in every class? Do you make sure you remain respectful during class discussion? Do you listen carefully to the instructor and other students and respond to their contributions? Do you ask good follow-up questions? Do you take notes?
- Preparedness. Do you come to class ready to work, with all required preparations completed? Do you show up on time? Do you bring your textbooks and writing supplies to class?
- Do you contribute to group projects effectively, both in and out of class time? Do you put full effort into peer review? Do you make use of office hours?
Below is a guideline for participation grades:
“A” participation: superlative preparation (multiple readings of all assigned texts, excellent assignments, and further reading) for all class sessions, full awareness and focus while in class (not sleeping or checking Twitter or talking when you shouldn’t), frequent substantive contributions to discussion (driven by inquisitiveness, respect, and honesty), questions or comments that further the discussion and invite classmates to respond, awareness about staying quiet so others may talk, full participation and leadership in group work and peer review, excellent homework and class assignments.
“B” participation: full preparation for all class sessions (full reading of all assigned texts good assignments), good awareness and focus while in class (not sleeping or checking Twitter or talking when you shouldn’t), frequent substantive contributions to discussion (driven by inquisitiveness, respect, and honesty), questions or comments that further the discussion and invite classmates to respond, full participation in group work and peer review, excellent homework and class assignments.
“C” participation: satisfactory preparation (at least one reading of all assigned texts, basic fulfillment of assignments), awareness, and focus while in class (not sleeping or checking Twitter or talking when you shouldn’t), substantive contributions to discussion (driven by inquisitiveness, respect, and honesty), questions or comments that further the discussion and invite classmates to respond, full participation in group work and peer review, excellent homework and class assignments.
“D” participation: lack of awareness and focus (sleeping in class, checking your phone or laptop when asked not to do so, and preparation (not doing the readings or completing assignments), disruptive and / or disrespectful behavior, frequent tardiness or leaving class early, lack of contributions to class discussion, failure to participate in group work.
Here, the specific actions counted as participation (and, by extension, that are assessed as participation for the grade) are clear: discuss, listen, ask, take notes, prepare, etc.
Another possibility is to engage the students themselves as to what actions contribute to participation in your class—that is, having them define and discuss those actions. Such a discussion can help build community and, of course, make the participation actions clear to students.
__Does your course description prioritize the writing and communication focus of the course, rather than the course topic?
__Does your syllabus include a link to the ENGL 1101/1102 Common Policies or LMC 3403 Common Polices?
__Does your syllabus include a clear policy about attendance?
__Does your syllabus include a summary of your major projects/assignments, including their due dates and percentage of total course grade?
__Does your syllabus include a clear policy about when you respond to student messages?
If teaching ENGL 1101/1102:
__ Does your course schedule include the Common First Week?
__ Does your course schedule include at least one week at the end of the semester to finalize the Portfolio?
__Does your course schedule indicate when the Portfolio is due during Finals Week?
__Does your course schedule include a major project (likely your first project, after “Project 0″—the Common First Week video) due prior to the Progress Report deadline (see important dates above)—and with enough time to grade those projects?
Please see the syllabus example below and note the marginal comments.