16 things to consider as you assemble your syllabus

  1. Do you tell students how long it will take for you to respond to emails?
  2. Do you have clear-cut consequences for academic misconduct such as cheating and plagiarism? Do you know exactly what you plan to do when you find misconduct? (Here is how I deal with it.)
  3. Is your course designed to minimize the probability of cheating?
  4. Are you offering extra credit? If you are, do all students have equal opportunity to get the extra points, considering that different students have different schedules outside of class time? (Maybe extra credit isn’t a good idea.)
  5. Have you ever changed the date of an exam from the one on the syllabus? Be sure to put in print whether or not an exam date is a firm promise or just a guesstimate; students schedule around these dates.
  6. Is your grading scheme designed so that it is unambiguous, fair, and minimizes student stress (and in general make your life easier) ?
  7. Do you have a very clear-cut policy on laptops and phones? Many people have phone addiction issues and the learning environment is ruined if you don’t deal with it respectfully.
  8. Are you okay with students using earlier editions of the textbook, and is this on the syllabus? Students often ask or wonder because current editions are so expensive and typically are very similar to previous editions.
  9. If a student misses a class that has an assignment turned in or a quiz or exam, does the student know exactly what will happen? Is it possible to design your grading scheme so that accidentally missing a class will not be a personal disaster for the students? Could you design an assignment policy so that nobody will feel compelled to invent a dead grandparent?
  10. Do you include participation points? If so, are these points administered in an unbiased and transparent way so that the students will be able know their exact score at the end of the semester without having to guess? If not, your participation policy is too subjective and unfair.
  11. When students turn in written assignments, will they know the specific criteria upon which these will be evaluated? If you have expectations for writing, could you put the criteria for the rubric in your syllabus. Grading writing without a rubric is unfair to students as they won’t know what you are expecting in the written assignment before doing the work.
  12. You’re going to get grade disputes, even if you say that you do not entertain grade appeals. Do you have a clear policy about grade appeals on your syllabus? Do your policies and practices deter unreasonable appeals?
  13. Is it possible to assign grades to students not based on scores that they earn on assignments, but instead on what competencies they are able to show by the end of the semester?
  14. Some students really love getting their grades through the course management system (Blackboard/WebCT/Moodle/whatever). Do you specify in your syllabus how you use the online course system?
  15. Do any disabled students — including those with a learning disability — know that you’re prepared to provide accommodations for them? Some students can be anxious that faculty might not be receptive and going beyond institutionally required boilerplate can be helpful.
  16. Is there anything in your syllabus that would look bad on the internet? It’s now a very small world.



*Note: now that buzzfeed is starting to gain the appearance of something like journalism once in a while, I’ve decided that the title of this piece of writing is journalistic enough for today.

9 thoughts on “16 things to consider as you assemble your syllabus

  1. Regarding participation points (#10) – I’m not really a fan because I tend to take longer to think about something and synthesize it internally before verbalizing, especially if it’s a new concept. If instructors aren’t careful, participation can easily become “talking” points, and more introverted students won’t be assessed the same despite potentially similar/higher levels of engagement with the material.

  2. Alex, I appreciate your comment. I am the same way. The approach I take in my class is to award points for some type of participation for every class period. This motivates students to attend. But points aren’t awarded based on the subjective judgment of the professor, which may favor people who say more words but don’t necessarily contribute more. I award points based on in-class quizzes and whether they participate in structured learning activities (where each person has a defined role).

    • One of the unwritten posts on my queue is “why participation points are unfair,” in part for these reasons.

  3. I think these are great tips! Participation is a sticky subject, but there are inclusive ways to get around this, like formative assessments and group problems.

  4. I’d also add the suggestion of outlining a clear policy on the acceptance and/or grading of work turned in late, particularly if your policy is at all complex. I am on the lenient side in terms of accepting late assignments: in almost all cases, I will accept work turned in late but give a 10% per day penalty when grading. But I have an important exception: I won’t let students turn in their end-of-term papers/grant proposals/other major written assignments late, since the due date for those is the latest date by which I can realistically grade all the papers if they’re all handed in at that time. I’ve been scrupulously clear about this since I started teaching and have had no late final papers and no complaints. Some friends have had problems when they didn’t put their late-work policy on the syllabus.

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