Create a Syllabus That Works for You and Your Students
Contributing Authors: Syllabus Working Group, CAFE, AI&e | Last Updated: August
The University of Alaska Anchorage Catalog states:
"The course syllabus is the student guide to the course. Students should receive a syllabus at the beginning of each course that describes the course content, policies within the course, procedures that govern the delivery of the course, the learning outcomes and the grading system used."
- See more in the UAA Catalog | Syllabus and Course Procedures
With the syllabus, you set the tone and introduce your students to the purpose and structure of the course. Your syllabus is an evolving document that represents the way you expect your students to interface with you, each other, and the course content. That is, it reflects your educational philosophy and pedagogy. It also states the course learning objectives and how they align with program learning outcomes, institutional goals and outcomes, and/or professional standards.
Because you and your students will refer to this document repeatedly throughout the term, it deserves careful consideration and deliberate design.
How do I make students aware of course learning outcomes?
The syllabus must include the official student learning outcomes for the course which describe expected student mastery. These student learning outcomes are found in the Course Content Guide (CCG); ask your program chair for a copy of the current CCG for your course, or find your curriculum online. The learning activities and assessments in the course help the students master these outcomes and prepare them for the next courses in their program.
How can I be sure my students read and understand the syllabus?
The time and effort you’ve put into the development of an effective syllabus doesn’t matter if the syllabus isn’t read or integrated into the class. An effective, well-developed, detailed syllabus not only helps students see that you’re organized and are there to support their learning (Saville, et al, 2010). There is also evidence to suggest that students’ academic success may, to a certain extent, depend on their understanding of this cornerstone document (Raymark, et al, 2002). Here are some strategies that may help ensure students are connecting with the syllabus in a way that will support their performance in your course.
- Incentivize reading and comprehension of the syllabus.It’s fairly common for faculty to offer a quiz or another small assignment based on the syllabus, but be sure that you’re doing so in a way that makes it worth your students’ time and effort by giving it a reasonable point value. Becker and Calhoun (1991) noted “the potential benefits of a syllabus quiz are limited to those who take the quiz seriously,” and they recommended faculty make syllabus quizzes part of the regular course work, not extra credit. In addition, they recommended making the points contingent upon accurate responses. You may want to go beyond mere completion of a quiz (and earning points for the number of responses they get right) to completion and correction to earn points.
- Emphasize elements of the syllabus you want students to see as important.Becker and Calhoon’s (1999) study of students at four different Midwestern universities revealed substantial differences in student and faculty perceptions of what was “important” in a syllabus. In fact, there were even differences among student perceptions depending on age and experience in college. In short, you might believe your statement about plagiarism is important, a masterpiece that reflects your teaching philosophy and the sanctity of academic work, but students may fly right past it as they look for information about exams, the attendance policy, and whether you accept late work. If academic integrity is a foundational principle of your course, emphasize this with students. Place it in a prominent position in the syllabus and, if you’re using a syllabus quiz, ask a question about it. Better still, refer back to your academic integrity statement and to the syllabus periodically throughout the term, emphasizing elements that are important. Doing so will remind students of the centrality of the syllabus and that items related to their academic success can be found in that document.
- Use your syllabus to reinforce course, program, or general education learning outcomesDo you want our graduates to be able to read critically, interpret information, or analyze implications of various directives and policies? In English classes at Mercy College, Charlotte Kent uses a netiquette exercise designed to help students develop writing skills and work on synthesizing and interpreting information. Kent’s students must read the syllabus, as well as a piece on net-based communication. They submit responses to key questions, doing so in a way that demonstrates competency in important net-based communication skills. If such an assignment was integrated into a course at UAA, it could be used to connect to and reinforce the General Education learning outcome in written communication, helping students develop their skills at writing in clear, effective ways that are adapted to a particular audience’s needs and expectations.
What elements could be included in a well-designed syllabus?
A well-designed syllabus includes the course learning outcomes and activities, all materials required for the course, and clear expectations to ensure student success. It is also important to list all technologies used in the course -- both hardware and software.
This syllabus checklist only includes minimum standards; faculty should consult with their department chair/director, college, and/or community campus director for any additional recommendations or requirements beyond those listed here.
- Reference to Institution
- Identification of the University of Alaska Anchorage as the institution where the course is offered (this could be as a syllabus header)
- In addition to identification of the University of Alaska Anchorage, the syllabus should identify the academic department in which the course is offered and community campus (if applicable)
- Instructor and Class Schedule Information
- Course number and title*
- Course credit(s)*
- Instructor name, relevant title or credentials, contact information, and office hours
- TA name, relevant title or credentials, contact information, and office hours if applicable
- Class meeting days, times, and location
- Course Information
- Course description*
- Prerequisites or co-requisites*
- Student Learning Outcomes*
- Identification of course as meeting a General Education Requirement, if applicable
- Course Policies
- Course delivery method (key physical and/or pedagogical considerations)
- How course incorporates external accreditation standards if applicable
- Textbooks and other required materials; include appropriate citations and copyright information for resources used in the course, modeling expectations of students; indicate style sheet expectations for your discipline (APA, MLA, etc.)
- Tentative course schedule including assignments and major assessments
- Evaluation standards/grading criteria/assessment of learning
- Must include the type of assignment and method of assessment, e.g., papers, group/team projects, exams, participation;
- Must include how those figure into the course grade;
- Must include a grading scale for the course, e.g., 90-100% = A;
- May include reference to the UAA Catalog grade descriptions.
- Any policy that will impact a student’s grade must be included and the syllabus must indicate the impact it will have on the course grade.
- For instance, course policies as applicable for attendance, travel, field experiences, late work, make up work, extra credit, or other relevant policies
- Communication expectations (use of email, timeframe for expected response, etc.)
- Technology requirements if applicable
- Statement on syllabus change policy, including how any changes will be communicated.
- Expectations Regarding Academic Honesty and Integrity: Instructor must outline possible academic actions or sanctions if the student is found in violation of the Code of Conduct as it relates to academic honesty. For example, “If you are found in violation of the code of conduct related to academic honesty, repercussions may range from a reduced grade on an assignment, a zero grade on an assignment, or failure in the class.”
- Instructional Continuity Plan: Provide the student information on how you will communicate course changes with them in the case of an unexpected disruption such as a natural disaster, health crisis, etc. Please note that the University continues to develop standardized processes for this and will communicate that as it becomes available to include in syllabi.
- College/Department Specific Information
- Mission and core values
- College writing style requirements
- College/program resources available (e.g. labs, tutors, clubs, etc.)
- UAA Policies
This course will adhere to all UAA Academic Policies and Processes as published in the most current version of the UAA Catalog. Please take time to review both the UAA Catalog and UAA Student Handbook online.
Academic integrity is a basic principle that requires students to take credit only for ideas and efforts that are their own. Cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are defined in the Student Code of Conduct, which can be found in the UAA Student Handbook: https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/students/dean-of-students/student-conduct/code.cshtml
Instances of cheating, plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will first go through the student conduct process and then, if a violation of the Student Code of Conduct is found, academic sanctions may occur in addition to disciplinary sanctions. The Student Conduct Review Procedures are outlined in the UAA Student Handbook.
The University has policies related to your rights as a student and the process for working through any disputes you may have. Those processes can be found in the section of the catalog covering Academic Rights of Students and the Academic Dispute Resolution Procedure: https://catalog.uaa.alaska.edu/academicpoliciesprocesses/academicstandardsregulations/academicrightsofstudents/
Students are responsible for knowing deadlines related to registration including add/drop, withdrawal, and refund deadlines. Those are posted by the UAA Registrar. (Faculty may choose to specify the dates in the course outline section of the syllabus rather than only linking to the site with the dates and deadlines.)
Non-discrimination and Disability Statements
Notice of non-discrimination: “UA is an AA/EO employer and educational institution and prohibits illegal discrimination against any individual: www.alaska.edu/nondiscrimination.”
Title IX Statement: University of Alaska Anchorage policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, genetic information, disability and protected veteran status. Discrimination includes any form of unequal treatment such as denial of opportunities, harassment, and violence. Sex-based violence includes rape, sexual assault, unwanted touching, stalking, dating/interpersonal violence, and sexual exploitation.
If you experience discrimination, you are encouraged (but not required) to report the incident to the UAA Office of Equity and Compliance. Learn more about your rights and options at https://www.uaa.alaska.edu/about/equity-and-compliance/ or call 907-786-0818. You also may make an anonymous report online.
Students may also contact the Center for Advocacy, Relationships and Sexual Violence, a confidential resource, for advocacy and other support related to rape or power-based personal violence at email@example.com or 907-276-7273.
The Office of Equity and Compliance can provide assistance to students who need help with academics, housing, or other issues.
DSS Statement: If you experience a disability or suspect you experience a disability, please contact Disability Support Services to arrange for disability-related accommodations. UAA is committed to providing equal access to learning opportunities for students with documented disabilities. To ensure access to this class, and your program, please contact DSS to engage in a confidential conversation about the process for requesting accommodations. Meetings can occur by telephone or Zoom. I would like us to discuss ways to ensure your full participation in the course. Together we can plan how best to remove barriers and coordinate your accommodations. However, accommodations are not provided retroactively. You must first request accommodation through the Disability Support Services office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 786-4530.
Student Support Resources
Faculty may provide this list via Blackboard or as a Syllabus Addendum. Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive. In addition, many of the resources available here are located in Anchorage and available to students via distance, but there are also local support resources provided at each of the community campuses (Kenai Peninsula College, Kodiak College, Mat-Su College, and Prince William Sound College). Be sure to highlight and identify relevant local resources, as needed.
- Academic Success Resources
The Learning Commons (LC) is home to a range of resources that support successful completion of academic work. Housed in Sally Monserud Hall (SMH) in Anchorage, many of the center’s resources may be accessed via distance.
Visit the LC website to learn about programs and services including the Academic Coaching Center, Center for Language Learning, Communication Center, Writing Center, Math Lab, Science Tutoring, SchoolShelf publications, and more.
The UAA/APU Consortium Library (consortiumlibrary.org) is here to help you with assignments and can save you time and frustration. Librarians are available to help you learn to quickly find information, improve search results, and evaluate/cite sources. Visit the Get Help page (https://libguides.consortiumlibrary.org/gethelp) to learn a few research basics or contact the Library at https://ask.consortiumlibrary.org/.
Many materials available through the Consortium Library may be reached from off campus locations (e.g., journal articles, e-books, etc.).
In addition to holding research materials, the Consortium Library has study rooms, tutoring services, printing capabilities, laptops and iPads for checkout, and a vending machine with basic school supplies.
UAA IT Services can assist you with accessing your UAA email, Blackboard, ePortfolio, or other resources. They have some software that is freely accessible to students and can provide technological support for your coursework.
eLearning and Distance Student Services assist students enrolled in online classes with information related to specific courses and relevant for online classes.
Academic advisors are available to help students determine the best major, figure out a degree completion map, make use of their financial resources responsibly, and graduate in a timely manner.
- Health and Well-being Resources
Affiliated with the Dean of Students Office, the UAA Care Team promotes the safety and well-being of students. If you have an issue where you need help with or have witnessed another student’s behavior that is distressful, disruptive, or concerning, you may contact the Care Team for assistance and referrals.
The Student Health and Counseling Center provides high quality and affordable health care, preventative health care, individual counseling, consulting, outreach and health education. Some of their health promotion resources include:
- Health Promotion and Wellness Services
- Emergency Food Cache - provides a 3 day supply of nonperishable food free of charge, as well as information about additional support services in the community
- Dating Violence and Sexual Assault (DVSA) Coalition for Change - supports victims of sexual assault
The Psychological Services Center (PSC) is a training clinic for graduate students in Clinical Psychology programs supervised by licensed psychologists. Counseling is provided to families and individuals.
UAA is committed to your safety. If you have an emergency on campus, dial 911. For non-emergency concerns, the University Police Department (UPD) can be contacted at 786-1120. If you see anything that poses as safety concern, please contact UPD. They also have a Silent Witness form that allows you to report events anonymously. Download the “UAA Safe” app for a variety of safety tools to help you.
“Out of respect for others and the campus environment, tobacco use and smoking, including the use of electronic cigarettes and similar products are prohibited on university property.” (UA BOR Policy P05.12.102).
Housed in the Dean of Students Office, the UAA Student Emergency Fund provides financial assistance to UAA students who have experienced unanticipated, temporary financial hardships resulting from emergency or crisis situations or unplanned major life events (e.g., accident, illness, theft of property, fire, death of a family member, sudden and unexpected change in employment status, etc.). Generally speaking, money for this fund comes from personal contributions by UAA employees, during the COVID-19 disruption, CARES Act funds made available through the US Department of Education are processed through the same office.
- Student Representation and Engagement Resources
The Dean of Student Office is a central clearinghouse for all kinds of information and advocacy relating to students. DOSO is a good place to start for students who have questions or are unsure about resources that may be available. The DOSO provides opportunities for involvement and growth for students to be successful and achieve their academic goals. It provides critical incident response and resolution of complaints regarding student behavior through mediation and/or the Student Conduct process. The office facilitates educational programs on alcohol and other drugs, diversity issues, safety, and topical issues, while working closely with Disability Support Services, the Multicultural Center, Native Students Services, Student Health and Counseling Center and Residence Life.
The UAA Multicultural Center (MCC) promotes academic and personal growth of traditionally underserved students or underrepresented minority students. The MCC encourages all students to fully engage with the university community through active participation in student clubs and organizations, programs, services, leadership opportunities and working with faculty, staff and administrators to facilitate informed decision making.
Native Student Services provides a safe, affirming space on campus. It is a gathering place where students can find support, access resources, connect with community representatives, study with classmates, meet new friends, and interact with people who share similar experiences as indigenous peoples.
Student Life and Leadership (SLL) believes engagement enriches the student experience. The department cultivates an engaged campus community through welcoming and inclusive events, involvement opportunities, and leadership development.
Residence Life provides a living and learning environment through programs, services, and opportunities that contribute to the personal and academic success of students living in the UAA residential community (on campus).
USUAA (Student Government)
USUAA is the governing body for students enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage. USUAA represents and advocates for students across the institution and at the state (UA) level.
How do I ensure my syllabus is accessible to all students?
In a nutshell, federal laws require that students who experience disabilities “must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services” as other students, with “substantially equivalent ease of use” within the same timeframe. In other words, it must not only be accessible, but also usable. You can find more information regarding accessible documents and ADA requirements from Academic Innovations and eLearning’s Accessibility page.
Refer to these basic guidelines for an Accessible Syllabus. Focus on the core skills of accessibility.
- Pay attention to document structure by using heading styles
- Ensure hyperlinks are self-describing (not “click here”)
- Use built-in menu options to create lists
- Keep table structure clear and simple
- Ensure adequate color contrast and never use color alone for emphasis
- Add alt-text for all non-text objects
What resources are available to assess my syllabus?
The following resources can help you assess and improve your syllabus:
- SUNY Buffalo’s syllabus rubric was adapted from one developed by Cornell University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. This is a fairly general rubric designed to help you think about format, content, alignment, learning outcomes, tone, instructor beliefs and assumptions, methods of teaching and assessment, and your plans for collecting input and feedback from students. It is likely a good starting point for assessing your syllabus if you’ve not taken a critical look at it in the past.
- Inclusion by Design Syllabus Assessment Instrument
The Inclusion By Design syllabus worksheet is an evidence-based tool that was developed to assist faculty in determining the degree to which they are being inclusive in course documents, particularly the syllabus, and are incorporating inclusivity in teaching practices. This instrument may be used alone or could be used in concert with other syllabus assessment rubric. This assessment tool could also be used as a starting point for reviewing and revising a course either individually or as part of a faculty group.
- University of Virginia Syllabus Rubric
Winner of a national faculty development award for excellence in teaching and learning research, this rubric assesses the degree to which a syllabus promotes a learning orientation for students (i.e. the syllabus goes beyond "content orientation" to "learning orientation"). It involves both qualitative and quantitative measures and has been tested extensively for validity and reliability. Completion of this rubric takes a more substantial amount of time and could be part of a larger review of a course and its design.
- Syllabus Templates
UAA syllabus templates to help you get started.
Check with the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence (CAFE) for workshops or consultations on creating a learner-centered syllabus, as well as sessions from Academic Innovations and eLearning (AI&e) on creating accessible syllabi and other course documents.
Bart, M. (2015). A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/a-learner-centered-syllabus-helps-set-the-tone-for-learning/
Becker, A. H. & Calhoon, S. K. (1999). What Introductory Psychology Students Attend to on a Course Syllabus, Teaching of Psychology, 26:1, 6-11, DOI: 10.1207/ s15328023top2601_1.
Brantmeier, E., Broscheid, A., and Moore, C. S. Inclusion By Design: Survey Your Syllabus and Course Design A Worksheet. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/inclusion-by-design-tool-helps-faculty-examine-teaching-practices/
Gannon, K. How to Create a Syllabus: Advice Guide. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-syllabus
Goldrick-Rab, S. (2017). Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@saragoldrickrab/basic-needs-security-and-the-syllabus-d24cc7afe8c9
Kent, C. (2017). The Netiquette Solution to Teaching the Syllabus. Retrieved from www.insidehighered.com/advice/2017/01/31/getting-students-actually-read-class-syllabus-teaching-them-netiquette-essay.
Palmer, M. S., Bach, D. J., & Streifer, A. C. (2014). Measuring the promise: A learning‐focused syllabus rubric. To improve the academy: A journal of educational development, 33 (1), 14-36.
Quality Matters Rubric Standards, Sixth Edition, (2018). Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org as a licensed QM Institution.
Raymark, P. H. & Connor-Greene, P. A. (2002). The Syllabus Quiz. Teaching of Psychology, 29:4, 286-288. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15328023TOP2904_05.
Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016) Syllabus Design Guide. Retrieved from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/syllabus-design/.
Saville, B. K., Zinn, T. E., Brown, A. R., & Marchuk, K. A. (2010). Syllabus Detail
and Students’ Perceptions of Teacher Effectiveness, Teaching of Psychology, 37: 3, 186-189.
Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00986283.2010.488523.
Syllabus Design, Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning