Create a Syllabus That Works for You and Your Students
Contributing Authors: Syllabus Working Group, CAFE, AI&e | Last Updated: August 11
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
This guide is based on the Syllabus Guidance in UAA's Academic Affairs Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines.
Purpose and Key Considerations
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) in the official course description; ask your program chair for a copy of the
current CCG for your course, or find your curriculum (most are in the Course Inventory Management system; use the Curriculum Files Directory for courses not updated since 2015). The learning activities and assessments in the
course help the students master these outcomes and prepare them for the next courses
in their program.
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. Please see the Syllabus Checklist tab for a fuller list of elements, including several
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 on our 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
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
- Identify the University of Alaska Anchorage as the institution where the course is offered (this could be as a syllabus header)
- In addition, 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
- Semester (e.g., Fall 2021)
- Class meeting days, times, and location
- Date/Time/Room for final exam/final meeting (must use the assigned date/time on the Final Examination schedule)
- Course delivery method (key physical and/or pedagogical considerations)
*Note: This content should be provided exactly as it appears in the Curriculum Management System (CIM)
- Course Information
- Course description*
- Prerequisites or co-requisites*
- Student Learning Outcomes*
- Identification of how the course contributes to learning in the core competencies, if applicable
- Identification of course as meeting a General Education Requirement, if applicable*
- 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.). Include a link to the appropriate campus bookstore
- Technology requirements if applicable (e.g., IT Services' online class requirements)
- Course Fee Information: If students are paying a course fee, the syllabus must indicate that there is a fee and the purpose of the fee. It must also include the statement, “If you have questions or concerns about the fee, please contact the <College> dean’s office at <email address; phone>."
*Note: This content should be provided exactly as it appears in the Curriculum Management System (CIM)
- College/Department Specific Information
- Mission and core values
- College writing style requirements
- College/program resources available (e.g. labs, tutors, clubs, etc.)
- Course Policies
- Tentative course schedule including assignments and major assessments
- Evaluation standards/grading criteria/assessment of learning
- Include the type of assignment and method of assessment, e.g., papers, group/team projects, exams, participation
- Include how those figure into the course grade
- Include a grading scale for the course, e.g., 90-100% = A
- 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 for instructor and students (use of email, timeframe for
expected response, etc.)
- Statement on syllabus change policy, including how any changes will be communicated
- 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, the University continues to develop standardized
processes for this and will communicate that as it becomes available to include in
- Expectations regarding academic honesty and integrity: Following a brief statement
about your expectations as they related to academic honesty, 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.”
- Indication that the course will adhere to all UAA Academic Policies and Processes as published in the most current version of the UAA Catalog and UAA Student Handbook
- Communicating about student rights: 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.
- Policies about course management, such as participation expectations and how you will handle attendance, travel, field experiences, late work, make up work, extra credit, military students called to active duty or deployment, etc. Consider including guidelines for respectful course communication
- Tentative course schedule including assignments and major assessments
- UAA Policies
The Academic Affairs Syllabus Guidance is updated in response to policy changes, so we recommend checking it every semester when preparing your syllabus. You can also direct students to the list of UAA policies on our Student Help & Support page, under the Student Rights and Responsibilities tab.
Please include the following elements in your policy section:
- Course adherence to Academic Policies and Processes in the UAA Catalog (listed above in the Course Policies section)
- Notice of non-discrimination (as provided)
- Disability Support Services statement
- Academic integrity statement
- Student rights/academic disputes statement (listed above in the Course Policies section)
- Student Support Resources
Faculty may provide a list of UAA student support resources by recommending and linking to the Student Help & Support page, incorporating that resource information into the syllabus, or as a syllabus addendum. Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive. If your course meets online, please include the resources available at all campuses, not just your local one.
Recommended resources include:
- Academic Advising
- Learning Commons and community campus learning support centers
- UAA/APU Consortium Library and community campus libraries
- UAA IT Services
- Test proctoring services, if relevant to your course
- Enrollment services: Admissions, Office of the Registrar, and Financial Aid
- Military and Veterans Services
- Dean of Students Office
- Care Team
- Student Emergency Fund
- Health services
- Counseling services
- Career services
- Multicultural center and Native Student Services
- Student Life, student government, and Seawolf Athletics
We have created accessible Google Doc and MS Word syllabus templates. The annotated
template includes instructions on how to make accessible documents and additional
sample language. The folder also contains a sample course policies quiz and instructions
for adding it to your Blackboard course.
These templates are updated annually. If there is a conflict between the template and Office of Academic Affairs guidance, always defer to the latest policy language from Academic Affairs.
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
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 key elements
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 learning outcomes
Use your syllabus to reinforce core competencies and course, program, or general education learning outcomes
Do 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 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.
Bart, M. (2015). 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.
Gannon, K. How to Create a Syllabus: Advice Guide. The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Goldrick-Rab, S. (2017). Basic Needs Security and the Syllabus.
Kent, C. (2017). The Netiquette Solution to Teaching the Syllabus.
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 Quality Matters as a licensed QM Institution.
Raymark, P. H. & Connor-Greene, P. A. (2002). The Syllabus Quiz. Teaching of Psychology, 29:4, 286-288.
Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016). Syllabus Design Guide.
Yale Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Syllabus Design.
UAA Faculty Development and Instructional Support usually offers sessions on creating a learner-centered syllabus and accessible documents as part of the Teaching Academy at the start of each semester.
Faculty Development & Instructional Support
Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, Academic Innovations & eLearning, and Center for Community Engaged Learning
Library 213 • (907) 786-4496 • firstname.lastname@example.org • Mon – Fri, 8a – 5p