Syllabus Development 

I.  Definition of Training Piece

A.  Purpose for Instructor

A syllabus is the basic reference document that guides a student through a course, but more importantly, it is the document, the "road map," that allows the teacher to logically build the course with the help of the students, so that the goals of the course are explicit for success in a course. It provides a time line for the instructor and students and helps the instructor define clearly the objectives of the course as outlined by the college. It establishes an early connection between the students and the teacher, helping to set the tone of the course and make clear expectations for the course.

Traditionally, the syllabus for a course is prepared solely by the teacher. By the end of this module, you will be able to establish a traditional syllabus along with a syllabus that students help build.

B.  Material Covered

This module will cover the major areas which might be included in a syllabus; it will give you some options and choices as to which information you wish to include in the syllabus; and finally, it will provide an exercise describing how to develop a syllabus with student involvement so that the students will own the material to be covered in the course.

II.  Foundation

A.  Definition of Concept and Theory

According to Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it is important to begin with the end in mind, and then put first things first. The syllabus is a way to achieve that for students and teachers in a classroom. According to Altman and Cashin (1992) Writing a syllabus. IDEA Paper No. 27. Kansas State University, you need to determine what type of learning you would like to encourage and foster and build a syllabus with that in mind. A well-constructed syllabus can help to lessen student anxiety and allow faculty to concentrate on instruction. The shortcomings of a syllabus most likely will show up in the final weeks of the semester when students and professors are harried, and misunderstandings become evident for all concerned. It is important to define your view and purpose of the course, as well as the school's objectives for content and skill.

A syllabus can also convey enthusiasm for the subject, provide students an opportunity to personalize the content (the exercise for this module), convey the ability to succeed and the teacher's desire to help students succeed.

B.  Summary of Relevant Research

The majority of research on developing a syllabus describes the material needed to be included in the syllabus. Articles by Altman (Kansas State University Idea paper n. 87) on syllabus sharing along with articles from Chronicle of High Education give specific areas which must be included in a syllabus. All the research indicates that a syllabus is a vital tool for communicating expectations between students and faculty. A well-constructed syllabus can help to lessen student anxiety and allow faculty to concentrate on the objectives of the course.

Some authorities state that a syllabus is a contract with students but those who encourage writing of syllabi as though they are closed contracts guaranteeing when a specific topic will be covered may cause problems for themselves, especially for teachers who use active learning strategies in their classes. According to W. J. McKeachie(Teaching Tips, 8th ed. Heath) a syllabus should have flexibility.

Important to the syllabus is the assumption that the objectives for the course have been written as performance objectives, which is probably another subject. However, one Web site gives some brief explanation on the writing of these objectives:

III.  Benefits

A.  Instructor

A well designed, thoughtful, organized syllabus makes explicit the expectations for success in a course. It provides a time line with key events like exams, papers, and projects highlighted while allowing for some flexibility on the part of the instructor. Having students take an active part in the construction of the syllabus, that is, the policies in the classroom and some of the content area, helps the faculty member to become a facilitator. While the instructor is still responsible for guiding the overall classroom environment, the learning paradigm of active learning places ownership of the course with the students. The well thought out objectives of the course define for the instructor the activities and materials that must be learned before the end of the semester. A syllabus, lastly, helps a teacher to specify his/her teaching philosophy.

B.  Student

A syllabus is an important point of interaction between the student and the instructor. The traditional syllabus is primarily a source of information for a student. While including basic information, the learning-centered syllabus can be an important learning tool while reinforcing the roles, intentions, attitudes, and strategies for the course. The syllabus can assure a rationale for the course, set the goals and objectives by which students can measure their progress, and help set some limits on the scope of materials students need to master to be successful in the course.

III.  Implementation

A.  Exploration Exercises for Instructor

Instructors can put together a traditional syllabus before doing the student exercise. There are many suggestions for material to be covered in a syllabus. Some are listed below, but certainly not all of them. It is helpful for an instructor to first decide what the purpose of the course is taking into consideration his/her objectives as well as those of the college. From there, a syllabus can be built. Here are some suggestions:

First state observable behavior performances starting with "The student will... ."
Then begin the syllabus.

Topics may include:
Course by number, name, section, credit hours, meeting days and times, room and building Name of instructor, office, any phone numbers instructor is willing to include, office hours, e-mail
Prerequisites if necessary
Required purchases/texts and supplies
Course description and objectives/goals
Policies regarding attendance, participation and respect
Policies regarding assignments, academic honesty
Grading and course requirements
Other assessment tools (i.e. portfolio)
Resources for support: study groups, tutors, learning assistance, etc.
Course Calendar
How the course is organized... lecture, lab, etc.

Below is an example of a syllabus for an English class, which may need additions and corrections and can be used as an exercise for the teacher. Decide whether all the information you would require for your syllabus is given; add and delete to make it a "good" syllabus.

Note that the dates/assignments for the syllabus below have not been completed. The student exercise will help complete the syllabus.



      Monday 11 a.m., Tuesday 2 p.m.
(144C Halterman)           Other times by appointment or drop in

The purpose of English 110 is to help you develop the critical and analytical skills necessary for success in your college career and beyond. The course will be devoted to writing, reading, and critical thinking through individual and group discussion and assignments. Based on the proposed statement of purpose for English 110 at OSU, this course emphasizes the ways in which writing is a primary element of active, creative learning. This course will give you opportunities to practice and reflect critically upon various processes of composing, forms of discourse, and problem-solving, inquiry, and judgment while providing you with a chance to engage with others' ideas and reflect, both in discussion and writing, on the institutional and cultural contexts that both inhibit and enable meaningful communication with others.

Students should be able to:

  1. write an essay which presents a clear central idea which provides focus for the essay.
  2. write an essay which is clearly organized with logical development.
  3. have paragraphs within the essay which are unified, coherent and adequately developed and which contribute to the development of thought.
  4. offer supporting details which make the central idea clear and convincing in the essay.
  5. demonstrate an ability to use the language well and show, through writing, a rhetorical awareness of academic writing conventions and expectations.


Folder (Portfolio work)
3 hole (thin) binder for Explorations
Computer disk
Notebook/folder(your choice) for keeping notes and handouts

94-100 = A 80-83 = B-67-69 = D+
90-93 = A-79-75 = C+60-66 = D
87-89 = B+74-76 = C59-below = F
84-86 = B70-73 = C- 

Portfolio (3 essays)+ outside work450 points45%
Explorations250 points25%
Participation200 points20%
Final project100 points10%
Total1000 points100%

  1. Attendance is expected. You are excused from class for field trips but you remain responsible for the work covered in and out of class. Please notify me before the absence. It is important for you to attend class. Much of your work will depend on interaction in the class community (note 20% of your grade is based on participation). While I do not set a specific number of classes you can miss and still pass the course, I would suggest that any more than 2 unexcused absences will be reason for us to talk about the future of your success in English 110. Each time you are absent from class you will lose a percentage of the 20%. If you have a legitimate reason for missing class, please contact me as soon as possible. Your dedication to attending class is one of the best indicators of your success in this class. If you are feeling overwhelmed, see me before deciding to stay away.
  2. Academic Honesty: You are expected to present, as well as prepare, your own material and to acknowledge your indebtedness to others. Suspected cases of plagiarism will be referred to the OSU Committee on Academic Misconduct. Please use in text documentation along with a Works Cited page. It will enhance the credibility of your writing. See the section on plagiarism in your ATI Student Handbook.
  3. Portfolio Explanation: There are three major essays in this class. You will not receive a letter grade for each individual essay you create. Instead, you will receive a grade for the collection of essays and all your revisions. To help you revise your work, I will respond verbally and in writing to your work as it progresses. You will have an opportunity to work with each other, tutors, and me in the process of developing your writing. Please keep all comments you receive from me, classmates and tutors along with all the revisions of your essays in your portfolio folder . Make sure to re-date each piece of writing (your drafts). Your essay writing will be graded at the mid-term and again at the end of the quarter. You will receive a checklist, which will specify the criteria used for grading your portfolio. You will be encouraged to include writing from other courses in this portfolio for your final portfolio grade. The portfolio is worth 450 points or 45% of your total course grade.
  4. Explorations: Throughout the quarter, you will be asked to do some informal writing (Exploration folder or notebook)--some in class and some out of class--in response to reading and writing that you do for this course. The purposes of the explorations are to help you organize your thoughts, express your opinions, and generate ideas for your three formal essays. Although I will collect and respond to your Explorations periodically, your Exploration folder/notebook will only be formally evaluated twice--once at mid-term and once at the end of the quarter. Please make sure you date and title your explorations. You will receive a checklist that will specify the criteria used for grading your Explorations.
  5. Timeliness of assignments: Work is due on the date for which it is assigned. A late assignment will receive a 5-point reduction for each day it is late, including week-ends. Since Explorations may be collected periodically, but only graded at the mid-term and the end of the quarter, I will keep a record of each periodic review. Late Explorations will result in deductions from the final Exploration grade. While Portfolios are graded at the mid-term and 9th week of the quarter, drafts of the 3 essays will be reviewed throughout the quarter and late drafts will result in deductions from the final portfolio grade. Once again, timeliness is essential for success in the class. If you are falling behind, please see me so we can work together.
  6. The Writing Lab (Halterman 145) is a place for each student to seek help from any instructor or tutor stationed in the Lab. There are computers available for your use in the Writing Lab. Student Services, Halterman Hall 132, contains a variety of services to help you. You are encouraged to consider the assistance faculty, staff, and students have to offer. Students should feel free to come to me for help. ALL STUDENTS WITH LEARNING DIFFERENCES SHOULD SEE ME TO ARRANGE ACCOMMODATIONS!
  7. Acceptable Behavior: You are expected to be respectful to other students and instructors. Any conduct or condition in violation of state law or University rules and regulations may result in a person being denied participation and physical presence in this class. My hope is that we all treat each other with a great deal of respect.
  8. All of your formal essays are required to be produced on a word processor or computer. Besides the Writing Lab there is a Computer Lab (Halterman Hall - Room 200).
  9. READINGS: Because there is a strong connection between reading and writing, you will be asked to read a great deal for this class. There will be readings in your handbook, in Newsweek and possibly in newspapers. Most of the readings will be completed outside of class. For the most part, every reading will not necessarily be discussed in detail in class. However, class discussions, activities, and writing assignments should indicate that you have completed the readings. There may be topics with which you disagree; again, we will honor everyone's opinion and always be respectful of others.

What follows is a general outline for the quarter. Each week I will give you a detailed syllabus which will list exactly what will be covered in class and outside of class including Exploration topics, readings, collaborative assignments and other discussions and writing assignments. YOU MUST USE THE DETAILED SYLLABUS TO SEE SPECIFIC ASSIGNMENTS AND DUE DATES!

W-F Class:Class 1-Wednesday
9-11 a.m.Class 2-Friday
9 a.m.Lab-Monday (Writing Lab)
T-TH ClassClass 1-Tuesday
9-11 a.m.Class 2- Thursday
10 a.m.Lab-Monday(Writing Lab)
M-THClass: Class 1-Monday
1-3 p.m.Class 2-Thursday
1 p.m.Lab-Wednesday (Writing Lab)


(You supply week 1, and students tell you what is important to them before you build the remainder of the syllabus.)

Week 1September 20-22
Class 1________________
General introductions

Review syllabus in teams/LIST TOPICS FROM HANDBOOK/EXPLORATION 2/JigSaw Exploration 1- Academic autobiography-When you think about taking this course, what emotion(s) do you feel? How confident are you about passing this course? What do you think you will need to do to master the material in this course? What personal benefit might you gain from mastering this subject? How can I, the teacher, best support your success? (Read to each other)

H.W. Read pages 26-31 in Hacker A Writer's Reference

Week 2September 25-29
Class 1 _______________
Class 2 _________________
Work on Essay 1 (Writing Lab)

B.  Student Exercises

The purpose of this exercise is to have students help build the content of the course and determine what policies already in the syllabus they find acceptable and what policies they would like to change. For example, 20% participation/attendance may be too much for some students who believe that college classes should not take attendance. On the other hand, members of the class may decide the it is an easy way to get 20% or 200 points...just attend and be part of the class. The tool called Nominal Group Technique, long used in the social sciences, will determine what policies and content are placed in the final syllabus.

For the student exercise, the class should be divided into teams. How many students in a team, and how you form the teams is up to you. Students can count off and all the "ones" go together, all the "twos" together and so on.

Content building:
You can list the topics in the handbook or rhetoric you are using, or just copy the Table of Contents. Students need to be able to number priorities, cross off topics, etc. so it is good to use a copy of the contents instead of the book itself. Individually, students should number in priority order which topics they feel they need to learn more about. Five is the highest priority and one is the lowest.

Then the Nominal Group Technique is used to generate a course of action. This technique gives each team the opportunity to list their priorities for the content of the class. Each team gives their priorities as the instructor marks the numbers next to the topics. An overhead can be made of the Table of Contents so that everyone can see the priorities.

Reduce the list to the topics that have been suggested the most. Then each team ranks the topics in order of importance to them; let us say that 5 is the highest priority and 1 the lowest. The tally might look like this:

A.1 1 1 5 210
B.5 5 4 2 319
C.2 2 5 1 111
D.4 4 3 3 418
E.3 3 2 4 517

The highest numbers are the priority topics. The priority topics become the course content.

Rules and Policies/Grades
This section is done differently. Teams read over all the rules/policies/grade weights and discuss which ones they can accept and which ones they would like to see changed. Class discussion takes place. The class votes on each rule/policy/grade weights, and changes or deletes what the majority of students agree to. The first week of class, you will need to re-work the syllabus for the remainder of the quarter placing topics in the syllabus, which are priorities to the students.

C.  Skill Connections

1.  The Invisible Curriculum: To make the syllabus assignment even more effective, ask students what they learned from the process of creating a group syllabus. You can then discuss issues of responsibility and community. The Invisible Curriculum module explores these concepts and others that influence the learning that goes on in the classroom beyond the content learning.

V.  Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can you take so much time at the beginning of the quarter when there is so much to cover in the course?
A: It is important to decide if your goal is to have students have an experience as opposed to looking for just outcomes in the course.

Q: As an instructor, don't I know what students should learn and not learn in any course?
A: Probably you do; however, students also know what they need to learn in a course, even in math and chemistry. If they build the syllabus, they own it, and they take interest in the course since they are the ones that have helped determine what will be covered in the class.

Q: How can I be sure that the students know what they say they know?
A: If the students feel they understand the writing process and there is no need to re-teach it, you can still use the writing process in the class. For example, students bring in free-writes and drafts; there is peer evaluation; you can have an editing class. You can do the same thing with punctuation. If the students say they know how to use commas, you might have teams plan a short teaching section on use of commas to see if they do know how to use them.

VI.  Helpful Resources
This resource helps create a syllabus. There is a textual description of what to place in a syllabus with excellence sources listed.
Great exercise for developing rational for a course before you develop your syllabus.
Some discussion on research as well as material to include in a syllabus.
Writing performance objectives.

Workshop Information to attend a workshop on this topic or bring one to your campus, visit this site or call Faculty Training at (800) 856-5727.