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The Syllabus: Home


What is a syllabus?

Depending on how you teach, what you teach, and how you've been taught, you might see the syllabus as anything from a contract to a guide. While the basic elements of a syllabus are fairly standard (basic course information, instructor information, course objectives, materials and requirements, policies, grading and assessment, course schedule/calendar) how you organize and present this information is endlessly customizeable and personalizable.

This guide provides instructors with examples, resources, and strategies for considering (and reconsidering) the syllabus as both a teaching and learning tool, whether you are creating a new syllabus from the ground up or revising a long-standing syllabus.

The syllabus as a teaching and learning tool

While the College views the syllabus as a permanent record for accountability and documentation purposes, and many instructors consider a syllabus to be a contract between teacher and learner, another perspective is that of the syllabus as a tool that supports both teaching and learning (Parkes & Harris, 2002).

Before students meet you or interact with course content, the syllabus can serve as an introduction to your pedagogical principles; provide guidance for successful learning strategies; demonstrate critical thinking and discipline-specific writing; and let students self-assess their preparedness for the class (Parkes & Harris, p. 58, 2002). 

In The Course Syllabus: A Learning Centered Approach (2008, 2nd Ed.) Judith Grunert O’Brien, Barbara J. Millis and Margaret W. Cohen identify at least sixteen functions of a learner-centered syllabus:

  • Establishes an early point of contact and connection between student and instructor
  • Sets the course in a broader context for learning
  • Helps set the tone for the course
  • Provides a conceptual framework
  • Describes your beliefs about educational purposes
  • Describes available learning resources
  • Acquaints students with the logistics of the course
  • Communicates the role of technology in the course
  • Contains collected handouts
  • Can provide difficult-to-obtain reading material
  • Defines student responsibilities for successful coursework
  • Can improve the effectiveness of student note-taking
  • Describes active learning
  • Can include material that supports learning outside the classroom
  • Helps students assess their readiness for your course
  • Can serve as a learning contract
Your syllabus is an important document for your course and should reflect your personal style. However, the course description and course objectives must be identical to what is maintained in the ActiveCourse File (ACF) in Courseleaf.


O'Brien, Judith Grunert, Barbara J. Millis, and Margaret W. Cohen. The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. John Wiley & Sons, 2009. [COD Library: e-book & print]

Parkes, Jay, and Mary B. Harris. "The purposes of a syllabus." College teaching 50, no. 2 (2002): 55-61. [PDF]



How to Create a Syllabus - Kevin Gannon

"This guide is aimed at showing you how to create or redesign a syllabus so that it’s not only an effective map of your course’s nuts-and-bolts logistics but also an invitation to actively engage in the learning process. Whether you’ve been teaching for years or are embarking on your first course as instructor of record, you’ll find in this guide the resources, recommendations, and tips and tricks to craft a syllabus that will guide students through your course and motivate them to succeed in it."

Gannon, Kevin. "How to create a syllabus." The chronicle of higher education (2018): 2019-08.


How Can I Create an Engaging, Student-Focused Syllabus? - Magna 20-Minute Mentor (24 min)

For faculty whose syllabi are often unread by students, leading to confusion and even misinformation later in the course, this 20-Minute Mentor shows how to make a visually appealing syllabus that quickly communicates crucial course details to students in an engaging way. To view, access Magna Digital Library and search by title.


"Bringing Your Syllabus to Life with Inclusivity and Creativity" - Faculty Focus Live podcast (18 min)

The syllabus…it’s where everything lives. From due dates to policies to your office hours to who you are as a teacher, it’s all-encompassing. And with that, the syllabus can get pretty lengthy, it may sometimes get overwhelming for both you and your students, and maybe even boring for students to read. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In today’s episode we’re going to talk about: How you can add creative flair to your syllabus and specific tools you can use to do this; How you can get your students to actually read your syllabus; What to look for when you’re creating an inclusive and antiracist syllabus.



Germano, W. & Nicholls, K. (2020). Syllabus : the remarkable, unremarkable document that changes everything. Princeton University Press.
Location: General ; LB2361 .G45 2020

This book is a field guide to the fundamental but often overlooked document, the syllabus. It describes how syllabi work and don't work, offers advice and encouragement to the professor trying to finish yet another syllabus, and reimagines our students' encounters with our syllabi by reconsidering our own relationship to them. Sampling syllabi from a range of disciplines, Syllabus asks such questions as: what is a reading list? How do we build human time into the semester's clock time? Can a syllabus be a living thing? Germano and Nicholls argue that at its heart, a syllabus is not really about what students have to know, or what the instructor will do, but what the students will do.

Harrington, C., & Thomas, M. (2018). Designing a Motivational Syllabus : Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement. Stylus Publishing.

A thoughtfully constructed syllabus can be transformative for your students' learning, communicating the path they can take to succeed. This book demonstrates how, rather than being a mundane document to convey policies, you can construct your syllabus to be a motivating resource that conveys a clear sense of your course's learning goals, how students can achieve those goals, and makes evident your teaching philosophy

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