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In last week’s blog post we discussed generating learning goals and planning assessments for your course. Now that you’ve decided what you want your students to learn and how you’ll evaluate their learning, it’s time to translate these plans into a syllabus and a semester of learning activities.

Syllabus Design

In addition to serving as an informational resource for students, many view the syllabus as a form of contract between the teacher and the student: what does each need to do in order for students to accomplish the established learning goals? Directing each section of the syllabus back to the goals you set is a useful way to go about writing a learning-centered syllabus. Begin by spending some time thinking about the types of students that will be taking the course. Are they majors or non-majors? Are they first-year students or students preparing for graduation? Then begin planning what topics, materials, and activities will best facilitate the students’ abilities to accomplish your learning goals.

Next, it’s time to begin writing your syllabus. The syllabus is a chance to communicate your expectations for your students and to answer students’ questions before they ask. A good place to get ideas for formatting or sections to include is to look at syllabi of courses similar to yours or used by professors whose teaching skills you admire. At the top of the syllabus should be the course information and your contact information (email, office location, office hours, etc.), followed by a description of the course and your learning goals. Additional sections that commonly follow include (but are not limited to): a list of course materials, a list and/or description of assignments, grading information, a schedule of readings and assessments, additional resources for students, and a list of course policies. Among the policies that should be addressed are accommodating students with disabilities, attendance, the honor code, inclusivenesstechnology in the classroom, late work, and extra credit. Most syllabi also include a statement reserving the right to make changes to the syllabus if it is in the best interest of the students.

Lesson Plans

One of the most time-consuming parts of designing a course is planning a semester’s worth of reading assignments and course activities. A helpful way to begin is to obtain a copy of the academic calendar and see how many class meetings you have and other university events to take into consideration. Next, plot out when you would like your course assessments to occur. For example, how long will the students need to develop the prerequisite knowledge to write their first paper or turn in a particular lab report? In the meantime, continue reviewing course materials that will help prepare students to meet the learning goals of the course and begin grouping them in a framework that makes sense (for example, chronologically, into broad theories, moving from theory to application, or vice versa).

Once you have an idea of the topics you want to cover and the materials to use, you can begin plugging reading assignments into the calendar. Remember that, sometimes, less reading is more. When assigning textbooks or other readings, also consider the quality, accessibility to students, length, and price. You might also think about how the readings will prepare students for your lectures, classroom discussions, or other activities. In sum, choose the readings that best reflect your learning goals: ones that will help the students meet your expectations for them in the course and ones that will enhance and extend your teaching in the classroom.

One Last Step: Revise

After you’ve filled in all the necessary information for your syllabus, read over it one or two more times. Assess the tone of your syllabus; do you seem approachable and concerned with student learning? You should be able to explain how each component of the syllabus contributes to the central component: the learning goals. Also look for any errors or areas to add more clarification. And if you want additional feedback on the style, a new assignment or course design, or any other part of the syllabus, consider setting up an appointment with the Kaneb Center for a private, individual consultation.

Best of luck as you finish writing your syllabus and preparing for the fall semester!

Additional Resources

The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach by Judith Grunert O’Brien

Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses by L. Dee Fink

Teaching What You Don’t Know by Therese Huston

Understanding by Design by Grant P. Wiggins

What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain

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