Course syllabi are important documents for both faculty and students. Indeed, many faculty use the act of syllabus creation as the process by which they conceptualize, plan, and structure their courses. Faculty use their expertise in a subject and their experience and skills as educators to build courses that are inscribed in syllabi. And while no course can ever be distilled down to just its associated syllabus, syllabi in and of themselves are extremely important intellectual products of the faculty.
While constructing or updating a syllabus can seem like a tedious, bureaucratic task, the Office of Faculty Excellence (OFE) encourages all faculty to see these processes as exciting, enjoyable efforts that are important aspects of the craft of teaching. Consider building syllabi that invoke a sense of excited curiosity within your students. Yes, good syllabi do require information about the mechanics and structure of your course, and we discuss many of these components below. However, a syllabus that helps students understand and cultivate the same passion and interest you have in your course materials will significantly improve their engagement with you and your course. Engaged students are less likely to stumble and more likely to perform well and are certainly more pleasant to teach. A well-crafted syllabus will provide students with the critical information they need to be successful in the class, will act as a roadmap to guide the student, and will set the tone for the semester.
Don’t forget that a course syllabus is the controlling document for the course and will be consulted as part of any review of a student appeal of an academic decision relating to that course. For that reason, it should have sufficient detail. The following is from UNF’s faculty syllabus policy: “Although uniformity in style is not required, syllabi must contain information about the goals and requirements of each course, the nature of the course content, and the methods of evaluation to be employed.”
The OFE has prepared a syllabus template that includes many of the content sections faculty should consider when developing a syllabus: the OFE Course Syllabus Template. However, we urge you not to construct legalistic documents with nothing but policy statements. Such syllabi will not capture students’ attention and enthusiasm for your course. Policy statements can be included in syllabi addendums and/or on Canvas where they can be referenced if necessary but do not distract from information about the substantive content of the course.
Faculty should consider including three (3) different broad categories of information in their syllabi:
- Information that minimally must be included in the syllabus (per the policy);
- Items that will provide students with information and guidance on how to be successful in the course and/or how the course materials relate to the student's program of study; and
- University resources available to students.
Items that Minimally Should be Included
- Instructor (and TA) contact information and office hours (times and locations)
- Course meeting times and/or delivery mode
- Pre-/co-requisites of the course
- For General Education courses, be sure to include the relevant General Education competencies
- Goals of the course
- Description of the course content and materials
- Textbooks (see UNF's textbook policy) or required reading or other materials (software, supplies, etc.)
- Course Canvas (LMS) site and/or other online resources
- Course topics and schedule/calendar with clearly identified due dates for assignments, readings, etc. Don't forget to consider holidays, drop/add dates, exam periods, etc. A link to the downloadable semester schedules developed by the Center for Instruction and Research Technology (CIRT) is provided below
- Methods of evaluation and/or requirements
- List of graded materials/assignments/exams and/or assessments
- Weights or proportion of final grade determined by each assessment type
- Grading scale, schema, and/or rubrics
- Attendance policy
- Policy on late work and/or missed exams
- A description of how and when students will receive their graded work
- Course continuity of instruction plan
Syllabus Content that can Help the Student Succeed in the Course
- Course learning objectives and how course materials and activities relate to these objectives
- Course purpose: how or why the course content is important and how the course fits into the curriculum (be it of a program of study, the GE requirements, FC/CD requirements, etc.)
- Students can sometimes struggle with the overall purpose of a course. While the syllabus should not be the only way you convey the course purpose to your students, it can be a valuable way to introduce them to this information
- Course etiquette and communication protocols
- Electronic device/technology policies
- ADA/Learning accommodation statement and information about Student Accessibility Services
- Undergraduate Studies’ Student Academic Success Services (SASS)
- Academic Integrity information
- Statements regarding diversity/equity/inclusion, preferred names/pronouns, etc.
- Student rights and responsibilities
University Resources you may Wish to Point out to Students
Things to Remember
- Approximately 35% of UNF’s students are first-generation students. Do not assume every student knows what a syllabus is or knows how to use one.
- Almost 60% of first-year Ospreys work off campus. Working more than 20 hours/week is linked to lower GPAs. Not surprisingly, 56% indicate that they struggle with time management. Consider how your course can accommodate students’ off-campus obligations and can help them develop their time management skills.
- 95% of first-year Ospreys expect to talk with their faculty about their academic performance, yet only 34% end up doing so. 86% expect to work with faculty on activities outside of class, yet only 23% end up doing so. Consider ways to engage your student in conversations and activities outside your class.
- Think about what sort of tone you wish to communicate in your syllabus. Studies has shown that the tone of a syllabus impacts students’ perceptions of the instructor. A warmer, friendlier tone can present the instructor as more approachable.
- Students typically approach syllabi looking for information about assignments and required work, grading, attendance policies, and instructor contact information. Students presented with more detailed syllabi perceive the instructor as having more of the qualities of a master teacher.
- Consider including the deadline to withdraw date on your course schedule so that students know when they must decide about withdrawing from your course. Mention this date as it approaches and encourage them to come see you to discuss this option if they are considering it.
- When planning your assessments and course activities, take into consideration:
- The drop-add period
- The timing of early semester academic activity recording
- Midterm assessment due dates
- The Early Academic Alert System (EAAS) allows faculty members to alert a student and his or her assigned academic advisor when there is concern about the student’s academic performance in the faculty member’s course. Advisors follow up and refer students to resources such as the Ombuds, Student Accessibility Services, etc., as needed. The EAAS can be accessed in MyWings under the Faculty / Faculty Self-Service tabs. Early academic alerts, if used, have the potential to be much more informative to students (and advisors) than are mid-term grades and can lead to students receiving support before their performance impacts their final grade too significantly.
- The Supporting Our Students (SOS) program provides a way for members of the UNF community to report concerning student behavior. SOS provides a safety net for our students. Don’t hesitate to submit a report on a student who has you concerned.
- Review any student evaluation or feedback from the last time you taught the course and adjust your class plans accordingly.
- Consider planning to collect student feedback at midterm so that you can adjust your course if necessary.
- Consider using Open Educational Resources (OER) to reduce the cost of materials for your courses. CIRT and the library can often help you identify and acquire such resources for your courses.
- If you indicated in your annual evaluation portfolio from last year any plans to make changes to your course, don’t forget to do so.
- Final exams must be completed during the final exam period (see the Final Exam Policy).
- CIRT provides downloads of Semester Schedules, including dates and holidays, in Excel format, for creating class schedules. Each file contains a schedule for Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday classes.
OFE Course Syllabus Template
Consider constructing a syllabus that invokes a sense of excited curiosity within your students. Yes, good syllabi do require information about the mechanics and structure of your course. However, a syllabus that helps students understand and cultivate the same passion and interest you have in your course materials will significantly improve their engagement with you and your course. Engaged students are less likely to stumble and more likely to perform well and are certainly more pleasant to teach. A well-crafted syllabus will provide students with the critical information they need to be successful in the class, will act as a roadmap to guide the student, and will set the tone for the semester. We urge you not to construct legalistic documents with nothing but policy statements. Such syllabi will not capture students’ attention and enthusiasm for your course. Policy statements can be included in syllabi addendums and/or on Canvas where they can be referenced if necessary but do not distract from information about the substantive content of the course.