Construction of Course Syllabi

As a new term begins, faculty members are preparing syllabi for their courses.  This tip provides advice on elements that might be included in the typical course syllabus. 

On one hand, some faculty members think of the syllabus as a contract between faculty and student that lays out firm expectations, due dates, policies, etc.   On the other hand, some faculty members think of the syllabus as a plan, a broad outline that is subject to change as the term proceeds. One thing a syllabus should do is make it clear to the students how the syllabus itself will be used. 

Preparing a course syllabus provides an opportunity to reflect on pedagogical elements of the course, including the content, assignments, tests, and other activities. It is a time to critically assess the value of each element of the course, its role and whether it meets the needs of the course and the students.  It is often helpful to write down the general goals and specific objectives of a course in order to determine how the elements meet the goals and objectives.  The writing process makes the goals and objectives more clear for the instructor, and they can be written into the syllabus for the students.

This also is a good moment to reflect on how the course fits into the university more broadly, what the course will contribute to the education and training of the students who enroll.  If the course feeds into a later course, do the objectives and outcomes match up well?  It is very important to consider these broad questions in preparing a syllabus, not simply with respect to the course, but also in light of the collective goals of teaching here at CBU.

In preparing the syllabus, it might be helpful to consider how students will use it.  A student may assess how the instructor’s teaching style corresponds with her or his learning style and preferences.  Responsible students collate their syllabi to map out their term, both for working on their courses and for their external obligations (employment, child care, etc.). Students also may refer to the syllabus in their evaluation of the course when it is complete.  It follows that the syllabus is a way to pique students’ interest in a course, lay out the work plan for the term, provide advice on how to succeed in the course, and clearly describe to students what is expected of them.


Advice on the contents of the syllabus.

Elements that are present in most syllabi include:

  • the course name, number, and description,
  • the instructor’s contact information & office hours,
  • the required and/or recommended textbook(s) and other readings,
  • an outline of topics to be covered,
  • important dates within the course (e.g., assignment due dates, dates of tests, visits by guest speakers, and other details),
  • the expectations the instructor has for the students (and what the students can expect from the instructor).
  • statements of broad course goals, specific objectives, and learning outcomes that describe what the students will be able to do if they successfully complete the course.


A syllabus should include a reference to the academic regulations of the university, noting that there are policies on plagiarism, the use of electronic devices, grade appeals, and other regulations governing coursework.  


In addition, a syllabus should provide a clear description of specific course policies on such items as:

  • The handing of missed tests, exams, presentations, and so on (e.g., are there make-up tests or extra credit assignments?)
    • What will you do if a quiz or test is scheduled but the university closes for a snow day?
  • The handling of late assignments, projects, and so on (e.g., there often is an escalating penalty for late work).
  • Do you allow supplementary examinations?
  • Are there acceptable uses of electronic devices in the classroom?
  • What accommodations are available to students with a disability?
  • Are there specific forms of plagiarism or academic dishonesty in your course that you wish to bring to the students attention?


Next steps.

The Teaching, Learning and Evaluation committee of Senate is preparing a syllabus policy to provide guidance to teaching faculty on the construction of the syllabus.  If you have any suggestions for the committee, please forward them to either Peter MacIntyre (Faculty Liaison for Teaching) or Matthias Bierenstiel (Chair of the TLEC of Senate).