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Functions of a Syllabus

  1. Establishes an early point of contact and connection between students and instructors
    Research shows that students want more frequent interactions with the faculty. You can begin communicating your availability by including basic information such as your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, office hours, and how to arrange for a conference. You can also include a page soliciting biographical information that will help you to learn students’ names, their interests, and why they are in the course. Other information that may be helpful would include the main office staff and librarians since this information will be useful if plans change during the course of the term.
  2. Helps set the tone for your course
    Your syllabus communicates much about your attitudes toward students and learning. The way in which you communicate your views helps students to understand whether your class will be conducted in a formal or informal manner. Communicating openness to questions, concerns, and dialogue begins with the syllabus.
  3. Describes your beliefs about educational purposes
    You can explain whether your course has a product or process orientation and how that determines your expectations of students. Explain how you have set your agenda for the course, how the course structure reinforces goals and objectives, and how the activities and assignments will help them to meet both product and process goals. You may describe learning strategies and techniques you will use and your rationale for using them. 
  4. Acquaints students with the logistics of the course
    Since courses vary in terms of the days classes meet, the instructors for each class, and the types of sessions that occur, your syllabus can detail this information so that students will know what to expect and can be prepared for each class meeting. Providing students with a course calendar helps them to plan their work.
  5. Contains collected handouts
    Faculty often distribute handouts as they become appropriate to the topics covered. Often students put them into whatever notebook is at hand and find it difficult to retrieve them later. You can help your students to keep all course materials together and accessible by preparing the necessary handouts ahead of time and including them with your syllabus or posting them on Oncourse CL. Oncourse CL will also make it easier for faculty to update the class syllabus and provide students with a single location to view the syllabus to ensure easy access to current information.
  6. Defines students' responsibilities for successful course work
    Your syllabus can help students achieve some personal control over their learning to plan their semester, and to manage their time effectively. If your students have a clear idea of what they are expected to accomplish, when, and even why, they will be more likely to finish assignments within a reasonable time and be appropriately prepared for classes and exams.
  7. Describes active learning
    You can include a description of your expectations for student initiative in your syllabus. If critical thinking, problem solving, and inquiry are part of your course, it is helpful to tell students that they will be asked to consider multiple viewpoints and conflicting values and to imagine, analyze, and evaluate different positions on issues or solutions to problems. It is also important to describe what students can expect from you in your role as teacher—content expert, formal authority, socializing agent, facilitator, role model, experienced learner, resource consultant, coach, and counselor.
  8. Helps students to assess their readiness for your course
    In addition to specific course prerequisites, students should be given some idea about what they should already know and what skills they should already have before taking your course so they can realistically assess their readiness. Your syllabus can provide information about the challenges students will face, the assumed skill level, the skills they will build upon, and the skills they will learn during your course. 
  9. Provides sources for academic support
    Your syllabus can help address multiple learning needs or individual needs such as special accommodations due to learning disabilities, religious practices, physical requirements, and medical needs.
  10. Sets the course in a broader context for learning
    Your syllabus can provide information that shows students how your course fits within the discipline or profession, the general program of study, and their own educational plans. You can make students aware that every discipline or field has its unique way of knowing. You can encourage students to approach the field actively as ethnographic field-workers who want to understand the social and intellectual practices of the field. Assure them that you will guide them while they learn how to use the characteristic tools and modes of inquiry, patterns of explanation, discourse practices, and the types of artifacts that are valued and produced in their field.
  11. Provides a conceptual framework
    Your syllabus can support major ideas, topics, and factual information. Include questions or issues for students to think about that range from major issues or key questions in the discipline to meaning of a significant passage in a course reading (Bean, 1996). Such a framework will help students organize information and focus their learning.
  12. Describes available learning resources
    You can list campus resources such as libraries, University Writing Center, Math Assistance Center, Bepko Learning Center, reserve desks, reading rooms, laboratories, and computer clusters, as well as their locations, availability, and policies that students may use. 
  13. Communicates the role of technology in the course
    Computers and computer networks have increased our ability to access information and communicate with each other. Computers are working tools that students use for their own learning to enhance their thinking; plan and revise learning goals; monitor and reflect on their progress; set up and access their own database; use a spreadsheet; write, illustrate, and revise texts; and build up a portfolio. You can use computers as a resource tool to provide direct instruction of new content, tutorials, and interactive simulations to model extremely small or large phenomena (Brown, 1993; Davis, 1993a). The use of Oncourse CL to post assignments, send course mail, comment on student work, use a basic grade book, and send questions are practical ways to interact with your students. Extended classroom discussions through Oncourse CL allow students to interact at convenient times. Studies have shown that students benefit from environments that encourage collaborative and cooperative learning. Online discussion groups can lead to fuller participation in class discussions by students who may not participate in face-to-face classroom environments.
  14. Can expand to provide difficult-to-obtain reading materials
    There are times when courses are developed before comprehensive literature is available on the topic. The syllabus or Oncourse can include copies of articles you want your students to read, as well as supplemental information not found in course texts. You can include materials that expand on, synthesize, and facilitate critical reflection on issues presented during formal instructions. You might include materials that fill in the gaps not covered by class presentations or present questions raised by other points of view. When you use the syllabus in this way, be certain that you obtain necessary copyright clearances for reading selections.
  15. Can improve the effectiveness of student note taking
    Carefully written notes are a significant resource for active learning. Active thinkers keep notebooks and journals of ideas from readings, lectures, presentations, and their own ruminations about topics. It is important to make every effort to help students improve the quality of this form of writing. As a model, you may want to include outlines that provide an orientation to topics for lectures and presentations, making it clear what you want students to remember and providing room for their own interpretations and elaborations of the material. It is also helpful to include any detailed formulas and diagrams that students will be required to use. In this way, the contents of the syllabus will help to organize and focus note taking and learning.
  16. Can include material that supports learning outside the classroom
    Much learning takes place outside classroom. You can transform student study time outside of class by proving strategies in your syllabus that help students to interact more critically with the textbook, supplemental readings, or other work so that they will be better prepared for class. For example, along with the readings you might give students a short writing assignment that asks them to support, reject, or modify the thesis or claims in the reading. You might include a guide for troubleshooting a story or a drawing. You can also provide self-check assignments that allow students to monitor their progress.
  17. Can serve as a learning contract
    As an agreement or contract defining mutual obligations between instructor and students, your syllabus also speaks for the college and university. “You should realize that this gives you responsibilities but also gives protection against complaints or challenges to your teaching. For example, the conditions, goals and requirements you state enable you to support your decisions on grades, teaching methods, readings and topics of inquiry. That is only possible, of course, if you and the administration (and the student) have a record of what you promised and planned and if your syllabus conforms broadly to program goals and policies” (SU Project Advance, 1995). You will need to be familiar with institutional, departmental, and course policies regarding attendance, examinations, drop/adds, course withdrawals, learning disabilities, and academic integrity.


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