The Basic Syllabus

Expectation for Faculty

As both existing scholarship shows and as the staff in our Center for Teaching, Learning and Research can attest to, students are better poised to meet educational outcomes when they are apprised of the basic structure and expectations for their courses prior to the beginning of the semester. Having this information ahead of time allows them to plan and manage their workload accordingly. Providing this information to students in advance also allows us to adhere to the spirit of existing federal guidance, including Title IX (Higher Education Opportunities Act). As we work individually and collectively to improve student success, providing a basic syllabus in advance of the semester is one way we can pull together information we already have about our upcoming courses in order to position students to navigate their semesters more effectively. This site provides information about what to include in a basic syllabus as well as rationales for both the timeline and the content.

How to Make the Basic Syllabus Available

In order to create a consistent process so that students know when and where they can access course syllabi, all syllabi should be uploaded to the course hub at least one week before classes begin. (The course hub settings will be updated so that students do not have to be already enrolled in a course to access the syllabus). For information about how to upload your syllabus to the Course Hub, review these instructions.

Important Note about Format and Accessibility

We recommend that syllabi be saved in Word (because PDF and other formats often are inaccessible). For information about how to ensure your syllabi are formatted in an accessible way, review the basic accessibility checklist.

What a Basic Syllabus Includes

A basic syllabus provides the following information:

  • course/instructor information (class meeting times, class location, contact info for instructor, office hours)

  • course description

  • learning outcomes

  • course materials

  • course structure

  • grading information

  • relevant policies (i.e., academic integrity, disability access/accommodation)

  • expectations of students (e.g., attendance, participation, etc.)

  • relevant campus resources (i.e., CTLR, DRC)

  • a list of major due dates for projects, papers, and exams

  • a detailed schedule for the first three weeks (readings/assignments)

Rationales for Timeline and Content

Having at least a basic syllabus available in advance of each term is about supporting full participation, access, and equity.  It’s a standard practice endorsed roundly by experts in education.

In terms of the timeline of providing the basic syllabus at least one week before the beginning of any term, these are the benefits for students:

  • Cost – students have lead time to find course materials at more affordable prices online and order them in time for the start of classes (this is especially helpful when it comes to supporting full participation, access, and equity for students for whom the cost of textbooks presents a financial barrier)

  • Macro-level planning – students can map out the major due dates for papers, projects and exams in all of their courses, which will allow them to begin to plan out when they will need to begin to study or do research in order to have work completed by those deadline

  • Micro-level time management – by mapping out the daily workload for the first few weeks of each of their courses, students can get a sense of what their daily schedule will look like and can figure out how best to manage their time each day/week in order to balance coursework effectively with other responsibilities (employment, athletics, co-curricular activities)

  • Accessibility – students with disabilities can secure copies of course materials in accessible formats before classes begin

  • Full participation – students for whom either the course content or the language of the course materials may pose added challenges can have lead time to get started on course readings and assignments

In terms of the content of the basic syllabus, these are the benefits that information provides for students:

  • course/instructor information (class meeting times, class location, contact info for instructor, office hours)

    • General recommendations - including both regularly scheduled office hours and an indication that you can meet with students by appointment will address potential schedule conflicts if regular office hours are held when students have class. Also, including an option for virtual office hours (e.g., Zoom, Skype) will address potential barriers that students might face for a wide variety of reasons (e.g., athletic travel, illness).

  • course description

  • learning outcomes

    • Rationale - providing learning outcomes gives students a better sense of how they will be expected to engage with the course material and to what end. This provides students with a better sense of the purpose of the course and how they will benefit from it.

  • course materials

  • course structure

    • Rationale - providing students with an overview of how they will be expected to engage with the course (in-class discussion, online discussion forum, group work, lab work, field work, etc.) will allow students to assess any potential barriers they might face given the types of assignments they will be asked to complete.

  • grading information

    • Rationale - providing students with a percentage breakdown will allow students to assess on how much of their grade would be determined by the various types of assignments or projects, including those that might present a barrier to their access or full participation.

  • relevant policies (i.e., academic integrity, disability access/accommodation)

    • FYI - the office formerly referred to as Student Accessibility Services (SAS) is now the Disability Resource Center (DRC).

  • expectations of students (e.g., attendance, participation, etc.)

    • Rationale - identifying expectations for attendance, response to late work, or missed exams promotes clarity and consistency, and better enables students to make informed decisions.

    • General recommendations - each faculty member can add information about expectations specific to their course. For example, some faculty include class participation as part of the course grade. When this is the case, providing an overview of what that can entail (in-class discussions, online posts, daily response papers, etc.) will help students identify ways they can increase success by choosing specific options to meet the participation requirement.

    • Another option is to include an overview related to classroom environment, which can help establish the tone for your course and help students better understand the dynamic you are trying to create in your classroom. A classroom environment statement is also a good place to establish an expectation for critical but respectful engagement.

  • relevant campus resources (i.e., CTLR, DRC)

    • Rationale - by proactively including these resources on the syllabus and reviewing them at the beginning of the semester, you can normalize the expectation that students can benefit from utilizing campus resources and should take advantage of the resources available. Because there is often a stigma associated with “seeking assistance,” foregrounding the importance of these resources can help reduce potential barriers to access.

  • a list of major due dates for projects, papers, and exams

    • Rationale - providing students with a list of major due dates for the semester promotes clarity, which supports students in planning their academic terms and managing their (often very busy) schedules.

  • a detailed schedule for the first three weeks (readings/assignments)

    • Rationale - providing a detailed schedule for the first three weeks allows students to procure materials in a timely order, establish appropriate work/study schedules, and provide greater access for those who benefit from additional time to complete work.

What an Advanced Syllabus Includes

While only a basic syllabus is expected to be provided at least a week in advance, faculty are welcome (and encouraged) to provide an advanced syllabus. In addition to the information included in the basic syllabus, the advanced syllabus provides some or all of the following additional information:

  • a detailed daily/weekly schedule

  • guidelines for discussions

  • detailed instructions for all graded assignments

  • rubrics for assessment where appropriate

  • materials saved in accessible formats and available before term begins

Basic Syllabus Template

Below is a basic syllabus template that includes all of the information outlined above. Faculty are welcome to download and use the Word version of this template. (Please note that it is not an expectation that all faculty use this template or that all syllabi will be formatted/ordered in the same way. Faculty can design and format syllabi in whatever way makes the most sense for their content. However, all syllabi should contain the same basic information.) 

 

Syllabus Template

I. Course/Instructor Information:

Course Title:

Semester/Year:

Class meeting time(s):

Class location:

Instructor:

Office location:

Office phone:

Email:

Office Hours: [scheduled + by appointment? Virtual Office Hours?]

II. Course Description:

Can be copied directly from the language included in the course catalog.

III. Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this course, students will:

List as specifically as possible the learning outcomes the course is intended to produce. These outcomes are the things you want students to understand or to be able to communicate or demonstrate through their engagement in the course.

IV. Course Materials:

Include required books and other substantive materials (textbooks, lab supplies, outdoor gear, etc.) as well as information about how students can access/acquire materials (campus bookstore, library reserve, Canvas or Wordpress site, course packet, etc.).

V. Course Structure:

Describe the structure through which students will be expected to engage throughout the course (in-class discussion, online discussion forum, group work, lab work, field work, etc.).

VI. Grading Information:

Include the methods by which students will be assessed during the course (exams, essays, presentations, participation, etc.) and the percentage of the overall course grade for each method of assessment.

VII. Relevant Policies:

Academic Integrity: As an academic community devoted to the life of the mind, Middlebury requires of every student complete intellectual honesty in the preparation and submission of all academic work. Details of our Academic Honesty, Honor Code, and Related Disciplinary Policies are available in Middlebury’s handbook.

Honor Code Pledge: The Honor Code pledge reads as follows: "I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment." It is the responsibility of the student to write out in full, adhere to, and sign the Honor Code pledge on all examinations, research papers, and laboratory reports. Faculty members reserve the right to require the signed Honor Code pledge on other kinds of academic work.

Disability access/accommodation: "Students who have Letters of Accommodation in this class are encouraged to contact me as early in the semester as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion. For those without Letters of Accommodation, assistance is available to eligible students through the Disability Resource Center (formerly called Student Accessibility Services). Please contact Jodi Litchfield, the ADA Coordinator, for more information: Jodi Litchfield can be reached at litchfie@middlebury.edu or 802-443-5936. All discussions will remain confidential."

A note about course policies and practices regarding the use of technology in the classroom: some faculty take a unilateral position that prohibits the use of laptops in the classroom, a position that is generally aimed at ensuring that students aren’t spending their class time posting on social media or doing other things unrelated to the course and because the use of laptops (when students are using them for other things) can be a distraction to other students. The problem with laptop bans is twofold: many students have grown up using laptops for everything, so that is how they process and record information, which means prohibiting them from taking notes in this way can make it harder for them to capture information they will need later; also, some students with disabilities may need to use laptops or other technology in class, so laptop bans force them to either avoid using those tools (which can hinder their learning) or out themselves to their classmates in order to get an exception to the ban. Rather than prohibiting the use of laptops, faculty can craft technology statements for their syllabi that reduce barriers to access and full participation while simultaneously establishing expectations about how technology should be used in the classroom. A sample statement is provided below. Feel free to use or adapt it.

"Every class has students with different learning and processing styles. Some students learn best by listening to verbal explanations; some students process information most effectively through visual imagery; and some students make sense of information by transcribing their understanding through note taking. For some students, note taking is most easily done by hand, while for other students, note taking is easiest to do by typing. In this class, students are encouraged to take notes using whatever method is most effective for them; consequently, students are welcome to use laptops during class—but only for course work. Using laptops during class for other purposes (e.g., scrolling through social media or watching videos) can be distracting to other students and can hinder their ability to learn. Thus, students should use technology in a way that promotes their own learning and avoids impacting the learning opportunities of others."

VIII. Expectations of Students:

Outline the expectations specific to the course with respect to issues such as attendance, late work, missed exams, class participation, classroom environment, etc.

IX. Relevant Campus Resources:

Provide information about campus resources (CTLR, DRC, etc.) that can help students succeed in the course.

Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research: The CTLR provides academic support for students in many specific content areas and in writing across the curriculum through both professional tutors and peer tutors.  The Center is also the place where students can find assistance in time-management and study skills. These services are free to all students. For more information on how to get the help you need, go to http://www.middlebury.edu/academics/resources/ctlr/students.  

Disability Resource Center*: The DRC provides support for students with disabilities and facilitates the accommodations process by helping students understand the resources and options available and by helping faculty understand how to increase access and full participation in courses. The DRC can also provide referrals for students who would like to undergo diagnostic testing. Students who are on financial aid and have never undergone diagnostic testing can apply to the CTLR for support to cover the cost of off-campus testing. DRC services are free to all students.

*(formerly called Student Accessibility Services)

X. Course Calendar:

Provide a calendar of due dates for all major assignments/projects as well as a daily schedule of readings/assignments for at least the first three weeks of the course.

Dates for major assignments/projects: [example provided below; not prescriptive]

  • Exam 1 - February 26

  • Essay 1 - March 9

  • Presentation - March 29

  • Exam 2 - April 12

  • Essay 2 - April 28

  • Final Exam - May 16

Daily Schedule of readings/assignments: [example provided below; not prescriptive]

Topics

Readings for next class

Assignment for next class

February 12

Syllabus overview

[Text] Chapter #, additional readings from course packet, handouts

Type of assignment, due by [time] via [submission method]

February 14

Topics/Major Concepts Covered

[Text] Chapter #, additional readings from course packet, handouts

Type of assignment, due by [time] via [submission method]

February 19

Topics/Major Concepts Covered

[Text] Chapter #, additional readings from course packet, handouts

Type of assignment, due by [time] via [submission method]

February 21

Topics/Major Concepts Covered

[Text] Chapter #, additional readings from course packet, handouts

Type of assignment, due by [time] via [submission method]

February 26

Topics/Major Concepts Covered

[Text] Chapter #, additional readings from course packet, handouts

Type of assignment, due by [time] via [submission method]

February 28

Topics/Major Concepts Covered

[Text] Chapter #, additional readings from course packet, handouts

Type of assignment, due by [time] via [submission method]

 

Academic Administration
Old Chapel
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753