Developing the Pedagogically Sound Course Syllabus

The course syllabus, defined by Webster as "an outline of a course of study", is cited as the component most often contributing to effective college/university teaching. Course syllabi, considered as quasi-legal documents, are appropriately written to convey course requirements, critical learning experiences, and faculty expectations of student performance to satisfactorily complete the course. Course requirements and expectations should be clearly established and communicated at the beginning of the course.

Matejka & Kurke (1994) describe four distinct purposes of a comprehensive syllabus: as a contract representing an agreement between the faculty member and the students; a communication device where in the instructor seeks to communicate with students the general purpose of the course and how it will be carried out; a plan which represents the overall plan of action for the course; and, a cognitive map for the intellectual journey for the course.

The Hampton University Faculty Handbook, a legal document, describes requirements for the course outlines/syllabi in section 8.5.

8.5 Course Outlines/Syllabi
Faculty members are required to prepare a course outline/syllabus for each course taught. On the day of the first class meeting, copies of the course outline/syllabus must be distributed to each student, the department chairperson, and the school dean/division director. The course outline shall:

  1. State succinctly the objectives of the course
  2. List the required textbook (s)
  3. List dates major projects are to be submitted
  4. List dates for tests and examinations
  5. Summarize the major topics to be covered
  6. Enumerate the expectations of students, including attendance, make-up and Honor code policies
  7. State the criteria for grading students' performance. The course outline should also include a bibliography of suggested or required readings
The course outline/syllabus serves as an official contract or an agreement between the faculty member and the student. It is recommended that course syllabus include the following information:
  1. Course name, course number and course credit hours
  2. Faculty responsible for teaching the course
  3. Office hours
  4. Office location and room number
  5. Telephone number
  6. E-mail address at school
  7. Methods of instruction
  8. Description of the course
  9. The course objectives
  10. Class schedule
  11. Attendance policies
  12. Topical outline
  13. Required and recommended textbooks
  14. Evaluation tools and methods including the grading scale and the University's grading scale
  15. Assignments and course calendar
  16. "Late work" policies
  17. The standards that must be met for students to pass the course

Learning facilities, information technologies related to the class and resources available to the student must be included in the syllabus. Policies specific to the course must be written in the course outline. For information on the course syllabus. The due dates for class assignments and requirements may be presented in a separate document or may be attached to the syllabi. The course syllabi should be distributed the first day of class and discussed with the students, allowing the students the opportunity to clarify any questions they may have about course requirements. Additionally, the syllabus should be referred to weekly to allow the student to become familiar with the contract and how to use the syllabus to facilitate or enhance learning.

The course outline/syllabus should also include policies as outlined in the Hampton University Faculty Handbook such as class attendance. The class attendance policy follows:

8.6 Class Attendance
Students are expected to attend all classes. Students shall be responsible for class work and assignments missed during their absence. Faculty members have the right to establish attendance requirements in each of their courses. Instructors are responsible for clearly informing the students in the course syllabus at the beginning of the semester of the attendance requirements and the consequences of poor attendance. Faculty members should refer students to the Official Student Handbook, Living, Learning, Leadership and Service, at the section on Academics, for additional regulations on class attendance.

Faculty members are requested to allow students to make up work missed when the absence is a result of:

  1. Illness (verified by an official statement from the Student Health Center)
  2. Participation in an institution-sponsored activity (verified by a written statement from a faculty sponsor)
  3. Recognizable emergencies approved by the appropriate dean of women or men and the Provost

The syllabus should include specific course policies related to make up assignments missed when absences due to the circumstances described in the class attendance policies and/or other circumstances that may arise. Faculty may also reference the honor code (current catalog) and the University's policy on plagiarism in the syllabus. It is recommended that the outline/syllabus contain a clause such as "this outline/syllabus is representative of what is expected to be taught in this course this semester, it may be changed or modified as necessary to reflect other activities."

The contributions of a comprehensive coherent syllabus to the success of any given university are numerous. The benefits to be derived from a carefully designed, well achieved outlines/syllabus include:

  1. Comprehensive development which requires the instructor to confront course specifics in a way that the "syllabus", which is actually little more than a list of weekly activities such as unit test or quizzes and reading assignments, cannot. It requires specifically defined objectives; and learning activities to achieve those objectives. The objectives are considered the most important element of a course outline/syllabus.
  2. The outline/syllabus that represents the course as actually taught makes it easier to define and correct specific instructional problems within an overall context, re-focus objectives and incorporate additional materials or delete those no longer deemed timely or relevant. Putting the syllabus on Blackboard or distributing it through other commercial products makes the process of refinement and modification easy and efficient from one year to the next.
  3. The syllabus serves to establish a serious purposeful academic environment while presenting a positive professional image and instructor role model. The syllabus reduces the chances for misunderstanding and confusion, especially with respect to grades A comprehensive syllabus enables students to plan and direct their own efforts more effectively than is possible when they have significant in the case of students who have to miss class for whatever reason.
  4. The syllabus makes an objective statement concerning the characteristics, scope and quality of an instructor's course. It is recommended that new courses or revised courses follow the major components identified in this sample course outline/syllabus.