Syllabi serve several functions. First and foremost, they communicate individual faculty member decisions about teaching and learning to students. Syllabi also reflect disciplinary, departmental, and college/school norms regarding pedagogy, style, and the way faculty work together to develop curricula. In fulfilling the University’s responsibilities to external accreditors, state agencies, parents, and other stakeholders, syllabi also play an important role in reflecting a vision of shared governance among faculty, students, and academic administrators across the University.
The following guidelines apply to all syllabi for courses taught at the University. Programs, departments, colleges, and schools may have additional requirements for faculty teaching in those units. In addition, writing-intensive courses may require additional information be listed on the syllabus, and recent state legislation may require additional information on all syllabi for online courses. The Drexel Center for Academic Excellence (DCAE) will communicate any additional requirements as they are determined and developed.
The goal has been to keep the list of institution-wide requirements to what minimally constitutes a foundation for a learning-centered syllabus while supporting our faculty members’ ability to develop syllabi that work best for them within their disciplinary and instructional contexts. The guidelines also support Drexel University compliance to specific legal and Middle States accreditation standards. Additional information about this effort can be found on the Academic Channel within the DrexelOne Portal.
Developing a Learning-Centered Syllabus: A Walkthrough
The following discussion points provide a reflective walkthrough of the syllabus development process.
Describe the course and its goals and objectives. Here you will want to convey the course purpose and provide an overview of what will be covered as well as detailing the goals and specific learning objectives. You will need to be clear in your own mind as to how you plan to measure attainment of these goals and objectives. Students should also be given a sense of this. You need to provide clear standards and criteria for any assessment strategies you plan to use.
Describe the course format including details of presentation, procedure, and especially any elements that may be unique or nontraditional. If there are resources on campus that may assist students at various points in the course and/or with specific assignments you may wish to indicate this here. If you have specific guidelines for taking notes, doing papers, etc., they should be attached to the syllabus and given out at the beginning of the course.
Explain where the course fits within the general program of study. Students should be given some indication of how each course relates to other courses in the department. If a particular course has interdisciplinary connections that should also be explained and you may wish to indicate what other courses might be of interest.
Be very clear about what students can expect from you and what you expect from them. You need to present your grading policy, an indication of what weights are assigned to particular assignments, and how you handle late or missed assignments and/or exams. Indicate when and how they can expect feedback during the term and the types of feedback they will get. If you have set out clear learning objectives, students may be able to partially monitor their own development. This is also the place to discuss any attendance policy you have. If you expect class discussion on a regular basis, you need to inform the students and also explain how they should prepare for these. With assignments such as research papers, it is important to indicate what you expect in the paper, and how these expectations are factored into the grade. Define what you mean by an "A" paper or exam, etc. You may also think about establishing an on-going process of assessment whereby students have the opportunity to indicate to you areas of concerns about the course material. For example, you may wish to ask students to give you a weekly summary of what they feel they have learned and what areas they feel need to be strengthened. This gives you the opportunity to either guide the student with problems to additional help, or, if many students are indicating the same concerns, to go back over some material before going on to the next unit. If you are going to do this, specify it on your syllabus.
Special projects, term papers, formal oral presentations, field trips, etc. should be described in detail. If you want students to turn in material for review prior to the final due date, make sure that they know when these interim materials are due and what the turnaround time will be for your assessment. If you are using group projects, be very clear how these will be assessed. You may also need to discuss what mechanisms are in place to deal with situations where a group member drops the course and/or doesn’t perform adequately. Spell out the course requirements.
Provide a clear course calendar. On your list of dates and assignments, give the topics as well. Students should be aware of whether you expect the reading assignment completed by a specific class or by the end of the week. The calendar should also include the due dates for papers, field trips, time when you have a class speaker, etc.
While this type of syllabus takes time and thought to prepare, you will also find that it helps you take a long hard look at what you are doing in the courses you teach. In other words, a good syllabus provides clarification for faculty as well as students.
Resources and Readings
*Some links below may only be accessible through a Drexel network computer
Altman, H. B., and Cashin, W.E. "Writing a Syllabus." Idea Paper, no. 27. Manhattan: Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development, Kansas State University, 1992.
Birdsall, M. Writing, Designing and Using a Course Syllabus. Boston: Office of Instructional Development and Evaluation, Northeastern University, 1989.
Davis, B.G. (2001). Tools for Teaching. New York: Jossey-Bass.
Gambescia, S.F. (2006). Best practice in syllabus construction with a commitment to shared governance. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 54, 1, pp. 20-27.
Grunert, J. (1997). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. Bsoton, MA: Anker Publishing Company.
Lowther, M. A., Stark, J. S., Martens, G. G. Preparing Course Syllabi for Improved Communication. Ann Arbor: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning, University of Michigan, 1989.
Nilson, L. (2007). The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
Obrien, J., Millis, B., & Cohen, M. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
Wasley, P. (2008). The syllabus becomes a repository of legalese. The Chronicle of Higher Education, (54) 27, A1.