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How to Rethink Your Syllabus

A syllabus is a map and a motivator. It guides and encourages the student into new ways of thinking. It provides support and structure. It reflects the relationship you want to have with your students.

In what ways does a well-crafted syllabus contribute to a teaching portfolio?

It will:

  1. demonstrate how you conceive of your subject matter as a body of information on its own and how it fits into the larger work of your field;
  2. provide evidence of your ability to define the essential elements and focus of the course;
  3. explain the methods, procedures and processes used by scholars in your field;
  4. describe the organization of your presentation of your subject;
  5. define learner outcomes in objective terms;
  6. explain your assessment procedures in terms of their contribution to the learning process.

How does a syllabus promote my teaching goals?

A learner-centered syllabus will help students meet your goals when it:

  • organizes the structure and content of the course;
  • establishes a framework for thinking about the subject from your point of view;
  • clearly explains the goals of the course in terms of information and learning processes;
  • establish clear rules and boundaries for performance
  • suggests resources to promote successful learning experiences.

Steps to Syllabus Construction

Consider which of the following you want to include in your syllabus:



Who is teaching the course

Where you will meet

How often will you meet and course calendar

How can students contact you and others involved in teaching

Policies of the course regarding communication, preparation or class, grading, dealing with special situation and special needs of students (statements regarding ADA compliance and personal emergencies)

Responsibilities of the students, including when, how and, sometimes, why

How to deal with difficulties

Every syllabus should include a statement for students with disabilities. Choose from one of the following statements or write one of your own that incorporates these ideas:

Emory University complies with the regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and offers accommodations to students with disabilities. If you are in need of a classroom accommodation, please make an appointment with me to discuss this as soon as possible. All information will be held in the strictest confidence.

It is the policy of Emory University to make reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. All students with special requests or need for accommodations should make this request in person as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that no student is required to reveal a disability to an instructor. Likewise, no instructor is expected to make an accommodation unless appropriate documentation from the Office of Disabilities Services is presented.

Nevertheless, an "open door" policy for students who experience difficulties with the academic demands of the course is the best help for all students. Referral to departmental or other university academic support resources can then be made as appropriate. See resources


Content and Context

Content of the course in linear and graphic formats

Context of the course content within the field or area of study

For whom the course is intended (and not intended)


Learning Objectives

What are the essential outcomes of the course for learners (course objectives)

Assignments by topic

Weekly topic outline

Notes to frame the lectures and readings

Questions to be answered for each unit



Available resources and how to use them, including textbooks, library and on-line resources

Ideas on how to study from the textbook, access on-line resources effectively, study effectively, prepare written assignments

Study questions and previous exams, models of "excellent" papers

List of on campus resources such as Academic Support Program or department tutoring programs


Evaluation Procedures and Policies

What types of evaluations will be conducted

What is the frequency of the evaluations

What is the relative weight or value of each evaluation

Policies regarding late papers, absences for exams, etc.


Consider what form you want your syllabus to take




Design your syllabus so that it is easy to use.

Think about both organization of information and formatting. Be sure that the information is designed so that each section is easily seen by the eye and the purpose is obvious. Plenty of white on the paper helps the eye.


Look at models of syllabi submitted by Emory faculty for ideas.

Each presents information in a different way but all include some creative and effective ways to describe a course and promote learning.


Go to model syllabi.

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