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Syllabus construction

The syllabus can serve a number of important functions, not the least of which is a contractual relationship between the faculty member and their students. The central policies on your syllabus serve to establish a set of expectations and consequences around things like attendance, grading, disabilities, and safety / security. Many students choose to take a class, or choose to remain in a class, based on what they learn about the course and instructor during the add/drop period. So changing the central policies that govern the class and student expectations could seriously disrupt student learning in significant ways. As a result, we recommend that you do not change any of these aspects of the syllabus after the add / drop period. However, there are a number of ways to build flexibility into your course and reflect that flexibility in the syllabus. 

Building flexibility into your syllabus

How do you make changes to your course without breaking the contractual nature of the syllabus?  Here are some suggestions.

  • Place the phrase “This syllabus is subject to change” in your syllabus. (See the cautionary note, below.)
  • Consider the course calendar a separate document from the syllabus.  For example, do not put the course calendar in the syllabus and always refer to them as two separate documents. In that way, you can change classroom activities without being bound to the “syllabus.”  (See the cautionary note, below.)
  • Use the phrase “and other readings as assigned” after listing your textbook and/or planned readings.
  • Write your course calendar to allow flexibility by not assigning specific teaching events to specific days.  This will allow flexibility if you wish to add an activity or run out of time for what you had planned.
    For example, instead of:

    Date

    Activity

    January 10

    Review main points of chapter 1

    January 16

    Review main points of chapter 2

    January 23

    Review main points of chapter 3

    January 30

    Test

    Use:

    Date

    Activity

    January 10

    Review main points of chapter 1 - 3

    January 16

    Review main points of chapter 1 - 3

    January 23

    Review main points of chapter 1 - 3

    January 30

    Test

Caution:

  • We advise great caution if you plan to change anything in the syllabus.  This is especially true if you are thinking about changing any of the central policies that influence a student’s grade (e.g. attendance policy, grading policy, graded activities, due dates, etc).

Required statements

  • Statements regarding certain VCU policies are required on the syllabus. You can find the required statements on the Provost website.

Additional items to consider including in your syllabus:

  • Heading with course number, name, semester, year, and name of instructor.
  • Your contact information and office hours
  •  Course description
  • Course objectives
  • Prerequisites
  • Your teaching methods
  • A statement about your own beliefs about teaching and learning
  • The textbook and where to purchase it
  • Required materials or equipment.
  • Recommended text(s), materials, and equipment: List those things which you do not necessarily require, but you feel would assist the students.
  • Course requirements, including assignments and assessment methods. The more inclusive and precise these explanations are, the more confident and assured the students will be and the more closely their performance and written assignments tend to match the expectations of the instructor.
  • Course grading.
  • Policy on late assignments: A statement of your policy concerning late assignments is vital.
  • Course schedule
  • A written documentation of the instructor's policies relative to the course
    • VCU's attendance policy
    • Your attendance policy (if different from VCU's)
    • Your make-up test policy
    • VCU's classroom conduct policy
    • Your classroom conduct policy (if different from VCU's)
    • VCU's honor code policy
    • Your honor code policy (if different from VCU's)
    • Policy on Assignment Due Dates: A statement of your policy concerning assignment due dates is vital to orient students and to prevent "open warfare" concerning the acceptance and grading of assignments passed in late.

Language:  Your syllabus is the students’ first impression of you and the course, especially if you post it electronically before the course starts.  A clear, complete syllabus with student-centered language helps set the tone of the course.

Need more information?

See these websites:

Watch Video: Writing Better Syllabus Video File

 
 
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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