Improving Your Syllabus

Get ready to learn more about effective syllabus design and delivery.
Today’s session will help you create a syllabus that is accessible to your
students and provides a comprehensive overview of your course.
Complete this sentence:
The syllabus for my course [insert title] is
like a _________________________
What is a syllabus?
A learning tool for your course (Grunert 1997:12)
A syllabus should convey “what the course is about, why
the course is taught, where it is going, and what will be
required of students” in order to succeed (Altman and
Cashin 1992).
Your syllabus “can convey the logic and organization of
the course and clarify your instructional priorities,
providing a common plan and reference” (Grunert
Why does the syllabus matter?
A strong syllabus & high quality instruction are related.
It gives students a sense of control over their learning.
It sets the tone for your relationship with students.
It is “an antidote to the deterioration of communication
between professor and student” (Strada 2000:209)
Watch out for your assumptions…
Students are diverse in terms of expectations &
experience, so lay everything out for them.
Many first-year students do not know what a syllabus is
or how to use it.
Some students are in the habit of ignoring their
Many students will be overwhelmed by the density of
Visual Syllabus
Think about
ways that you
can make your
AND convey
the logic
behind your
course design.
Por t f olio St rat egy
Key Topics
Por t f olio Analysis
Aug- Oct
Module 1: The Business Por t f olio
BT 301
Module 2: The Revenue Model
Defining t he Revenue Model
Key Topics
Evaluat ing Top Line Perf or mance
Visual Syllabus
Oct- Dec
Note: The choice of specific topics
will be driven by the flow of realtime events affecting the financial
markets during the semester in
which the course is offered.
301 Visual Syllabus (2008).mmap - 4/ 8/ 09 - George Calhoun
Engaging Students in the Syllabus
Question: Why would you ignore a life raft?
Answer: You didn’t recognize it as a life raft.
Think/Pair/Share: What are
some ways you can
encourage your students to
engage with the syllabus
throughout the course?
Reflection & Writing
Take a moment to consider these ideas and write
down at least two in the space provided that you
think you might be able to implement in your class.
Things to Keep in Mind as We Go
Check for bias and make sure you are being
“intellectually and culturally responsive” to the
needs of your students (Grunert 1997:5).
Look out for disciplinary assumptions…do your
students know what it means when you say they will
think critically, write persuasively, or “unpack”
complex ideas?
30 Seconds
Complete the box “Setting the Tone” on your
What concrete strategies did you identify?
60 seconds
Complete the “Course Requirements” box on
your own
What kinds of resources can you assist your students in finding?
90 seconds
Complete the “Goals” box on your own
You may want to refer to the master syllabus
2 minutes
Work on the “Success” box on your own
Pay particular attention to any hidden
expectations you may have for your students
Think/Pair/Share: What unstated expectations did you become aware of and how
will you address them?
Why Transparency Matters
Without clearly stating our expectations, students cannot meet them.
Unstated expectations tend to “sort” students
Transparency helps students understand why they are completing
specific learning tasks
Transparency builds metacognitive skills – shows students how they’re
For more, check out the Illinois Initiative on Transparency in
Learning and Teaching in Higher Education
90 seconds
Complete “Practicing Transparency” on your own
Partner Feedback
Pick one of your assessments/activities and explain
it to your partner. Be sure to explain how it
connects with your learning objectives.
Make sure both partners have a chance to share.
60 seconds
Complete the first box only under the section
titled “Classroom Behavior”
Now work with a partner to brainstorm ways you can encourage desirable behaviors
and minimize undesirable ones. You can use the space provided to record your ideas.
Worth Considering
Some faculty allow students to participate in the creation of
classroom rules to encourage their sense of ownership over the class
and the learning process.
“If students collectively come up with the code of conduct, they are
more likely to approve of it and conform to it” (Nilson 2004:5)
Nilson and Jackson have found a “bill of rights” to be particularly
useful in combatting incivilities (2004)
Most students are annoyed by the same issues, so the list of rules isn’t
oppressively long
Students tend to self-police with some gentle reminders from the teacher
For more, see Ballantine and Risacher 1993
60 seconds
Complete the final box under “Classroom
Behavior” on your own
60 seconds
Complete the box marked “Class Preparation”
on your own
What strategies can you share for holding students accountable for preparation?
60 seconds
Complete both boxes on the final page
How can we equitably evaluate student participation?
Workshop Evaluation
Please take a moment to complete the evaluation of this
We appreciate you coming and working with us today.
FaCIT has a full calendar of events designed to help faculty
take their teaching to the next level, including workshops
that focus on individual components of the basic process
outlined here. We also share relevant teaching and
learning information on our newsletter and blogs. For more,
visit our website:
We also provide ongoing consultation services for all of
your course needs. We hope this workshop will be the
beginning of a productive relationship with our office!
Altman, H.B. and Cashin, W.E. (1992). Writing a syllabus. Kansas State University: Center for Faculty Evaluation and
Development. Idea paper No. 27.
Ballantine, J., & Risacher, J. (1993). Coping with annoying classroom behaviors. Paper presented at the 13th Annual Lilly
Conference on College Teaching, Oxford, OH. November 12.
Grunert, J. (1997). The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Nilson, L. B. and Jackson, N. S. (2004). Combating Classroom Misconduct (Incivility) with Bills of Rights. Paper presented
at the 4th Conference of the International Consortium for Educational Development, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. June 2123.
Royce, A. P. (2000). A survey of academic incivility at Indiana University: Preliminary report. Bloomington, IN: Center for
Survey Research, Indiana University.
Strada, M.. (2000). The case for sophisticated course syllabi. In, D. Lieberman, ed. To improve the academy. Bolton, Mass: