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Outreach School

The Syllabus

The course syllabus is the foundation and road map for the course of study; an agreement of performance expectations between you and your students - what you expect of them and what they can expect from you; the map of the course of study; a student's guide to being successful in the course. The syllabus plays a particularly important role in outreach classes, where students pursue their learning more independently. 

A good syllabus will:

  • Convey your enthusiasm for the subject of study;
  • Project achievable outcomes of the course;
  • Describe the course in the broader context of the degree program, college, and university (the "tree in the forest");
  • Contract with students, through publicly stated policies, requirements, and procedures for the course;
  • Set the tone for a learning environment that is positive, safe, and engaging. (Example: AGRI 3000) 
  • Convey how you perceive your role as the teacher, and their role as students;
  • Help students assess their readiness for the course by identifying prerequisite areas of knowledge;
  • Assist students in managing their learning by identifying outside resources and/or providing advice;
  • Outline a schedule of study.

Syllabus Elements:


Section Content
Catalog Description
  • Course title and number
  • Semester, year
  • Date written/revised
  • Instructor
Instructor Information
  • Name
  • Contact information
  • Professional bio/teaching philosophy (maybe presented in audio or video recording)
  • Photo
Course Description
  • Your extended course description expanded from, but faithful to, the catalog course description.
  • Credit hours
  • Prerequisites 
  • Course delivery method(s).
Course Purpose
  • Why do you want to teach this subject of study?
  • What relevance to their education will students find in this course?

Learning Outcomes

(Course Objectives)

  • Three to six challenging but achievable learning outcomes.
  • What new knowledge or skills will students gain upon completion of the course?
Required Materials
  • Textbooks (printed or electronic)
  • Supplementary content (DVD, web site)
  • eReserve readings
  • Software
  • Technology requirements
  • Detailed schedule of course activities, readings, and assessments
  • Each synchronous class meeting
Recommendation: Present the schedule separately as its own course item. 
Learning Activities
  • General course organization
  • Description of the path and pattern of the course.
  • General description of how students' work will be assessed. 
  • Summary table of assessments with their point values and weights.
Assessed Assignments
  • Description of each assessed assignment, including its purpose, point values and weights.
  • References to rubrics, sample papers, study guides, etc.
Grading Policies
  • Late submissions
  • Extra credit
  • Exam makeups
  • Absence
Course Policies
  • Attendance/participation
Expectations and Responsibilities
  • "I will expect from you..." participation, netiquette, academic honesty, civility, etc.
  • "You can expect from me..." participation, turnaround time for grading, response time to emails, fairness, civility, etc.
Learner Support
  • Directions to technical support
  • Behaviors of past successful students
  • Time management
  • eTutoring
  • Library
  • Dean of Students
University Policies
  • Academic honesty (Example: ENGL 4010)
  • Accessibility
  • Use of copyrighted content in the course 



  • Be concise and organized. Attempting to include in the syllabus absolutely everything any student may ever have a question about will result in a lengthy tome that will discourage students' reading it. Clear organization assists students when they need to reference the syllabus throughout the course.
  • The syllabus is not the sole means of communicating important course information. Any syllabus item of much length, e.g. rubrics or the course schedule, may be more prominent and convenient if presented separately from the syllabus. The course schedule, probably the most frequently referenced information in the syllabus, is more accessible if it stands apart as its own course item, placed prominently in the Course Home area of the online course shell. 
  • If significant changes are made to the syllabus after the start of class, notify students through course announcements or email. Include a revision date in the syllabus header.
  • The traditional, linear text format of a syllabus is not the only way to present a syllabus. Visual, graphical presentations of the course organization can illustrate the connectedness of all course elements. Consider these ideas.  

A Few Sample Syllabi:

Discovering and Utilizing Ideas and Information. AGRI 3000, Fall 2011. Dr. Christi Boggs, instructor. 

Technical Writing in the Professions. ENGL 4010, Spring 2012. Meg Van Baalen-Wood, instructor. 


Resources for Syllabus Development and Improvement:

Nilson, L.B. (2007). The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Grunert O'Brien, J., Millis, B.J., Cohen, M.W. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach (2nd edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2003). Creating an effective online syllabus. In Teaching Online: A Practical Guide. (pp. 65 - 81). Retrieved from

Ko, S. & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching Online: A Practical Guide.(3rd edition) New York: Routledge.

Maryland Faculty Online (n.d.). Creating an effective online syllabus (tutorial). Retrieved from

University of Minnesota Center for Teaching and Learning (n.d.). Syllabus development (tutorial). Retrieved from

DePaul Teaching Commons (n.d.). Constructing a syllabus. Retrieved from

Carnegie Mellon University, Enhancing Education (n.d.). Write the syllabus. Retrieved from

Dartmouth College Writing Program (n.d.). Designing your syllabus: Backward design. Retrieved from 

Park University, Faculty Resources Quick Tips (n.d.). Creating a syllabus. Retrieved from

Penn State Learning Design Community Hub (June 6, 2012).Building stellar syllabi. Retrieved from 

Hara, B. (2010, October 19). Graphic display of student learning objectives. [Web log post to ProfHacker blog, The Chronicle of Higher Education.] Retrieved from

Wasley, P. (2008). Research yields tips on crafting better syllabi. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 54(27). A11. Retrieved from

Best Practices - Instructional Technology at Work for UNC - Chapel Hill (n.d.) Creating an online course syllabus. Retrieved from







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