The University requires instructors to distribute a thorough syllabus during the first class session and on the course management site in ICON. Although many teaching assistants receive a syllabus from the professor teaching the course, a TA who independently teaches a course must create a syllabus. This is a crucial part of the course that should receive considerable thought.

The following tips are not meant to be the last word on constructing an effective syllabus. The Center for Teaching has many resources, including handouts, about the theory and practice of syllabus construction. Feel free to contact us or go to the OTLT website if you would like more information.

  • The University requires the following specific course information on the first day of classes. The most common method of providing this information is a syllabus:

    • The instructor’s name, office address, office hours, and directory information (telephone and email). If the instructor is a teaching assistant, the course supervisor’s name, office address, office hours, and directory information also are required. Please also include the departmental executive officer (DEO) name and office location.

    • Goals and learning objectives of the course.

    • Course content and schedule of topics.

    • List of readings and/or other anticipated course materials.

    • Expectations for attendance, assignments, and examinations.

    • Dates and times of any examinations outside of class time (the Registrar’s Examination Policies).

    • Grading procedures, including whether plus/minus grading will/will not be used.

    • Statement on availability of accommodations for students with disabilities.

    • Resources for obtaining additional help, such as tutors or teaching assistants.

    • Any changes in the information about the course from what appeared on ISIS.

  • Additional information may be required by each college. Check with the college(s) under whose auspices the course is being taught.

  • Clearly state the course learning goals, learning objectives, and learning outcomes. Periodically refer back to these as you teach and if students question a grade or their progress in the course. Goals reflect the broad learning targets for a course. Learning objectives include the specific content and activities that you want students to learn and the behaviors that you expect from students to demonstrate their learning. Learning objectives are phrased with verbs such as “apply,” “analyze,” and “create” that make clear to the student what is expected of him/her. These are the nuts and bolts of learning. Learning outcomes are what you measure to demonstrate student understanding and application of the material. In a nutshell, goals are where you want to go, objectives are how you get there, and outcomes are proof that you have arrived. The Center for Teaching has additional information about structuring learning goals, objectives, and outcomes.

  • The tone of the syllabus helps sets the tone of the course. A positive tone helps students engage in their own learning endeavor. An authoritarian or scolding tone does not welcome or encourage their collaboration in the teaching-and-learning process. Describe the syllabus as an educational “promise” not a “contract.”

  • Clearly state course policies and make sure they are in accordance with University and college policies.

  • Some instructors include a disclaimer in the syllabus to the effect that the schedule should be viewed as a tentative outline subject to reasonable adjustment. This reminds students that the learning process should be flexible and may be altered according to their learning needs and your teaching expertise.

  • Obtain copies of syllabi from previously taught courses to make sure you haven’t missed anything important, and invite a supervising faculty member, mentor, or experienced colleague to review your syllabus before printing.