Using a Syllabus

The syllabus is a vital tool in preparing and executing a course. It conveys the vision of the course as well as the logic of the pedagogical approaches used, and it is a clear and ever-present guide to students. The syllabus articulates what is expected of students and what they can expect of the teacher, from one class meeting to the next, across the whole semester. As both existing scholarship shows and as CTLR staff 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.

College Syllabus Policy

In May 2022, the College faculty adopted a policy requiring the use and posting of syllabi. The Handbook-approved language stipulates that:

“The course syllabus communicates the overall expectations that the faculty has for student work. It must be issued by the instructor at the beginning of every regular course. The course syllabus shall include: general course information, instructor information, a course description, course objectives, instructional methodology, grading information, course materials, and a course outline with tentative deadlines. A course syllabus should be uploaded to the Course Hub at least one week before classes begin. 

The syllabus is subject to change as determined by the instructor with advance notice and due respect to fairness to the students as a whole. No additional major papers or projects may be announced after the end of the fifth week of the semester. No new assignments of work for evaluation may be made during the last week of classes.”

This policy makes clear the expectation that faculty will use and update a syllabus consistently throughout the semester to convey to students their course plans, expectations, and any changes that develop. The policy also includes guidelines for when and where syllabi must be distributed.

How to Meet the Handbook Requirements Regarding Syllabus Use

Before the semester starts, at least one week prior to the first day of classes, a course syllabus must be posted to Course Hub.

Course Hub: The repository for the syllabus is Course Hub. It has a site for each course being taught. Whether faculty use Course Hub for anything else, the course syllabus needs to be posted there in advance so that students, CTLR staff, DRC staff, and academic advisors can access syllabi as they engage in semester planning. Here are instructions on how to add a syllabus to Course Hub

A Note about File Format: According to our DLINQ colleagues, Microsoft Word is the preferred file format for syllabi because it is more compatible with screen readers, and Word documents can be adapted more easily with a variety of tools to increase content accessibility. Faculty are encouraged to upload their syllabi as Word files. Here are instructions on how to convert common file types to a Word Document

Using Canvas? Even faculty who use a fully-developed Canvas site to deliver all of their course info still need to post a course syllabus a week ahead that is accessible on Course Hub.

Syllabus Design: Best Practices to Support Student Success

As stated in the handbook policy language, a course syllabus shall include: general course information, instructor information, a course description, course objectives, instructional methodology, grading information, course materials, and a course outline with tentative deadlines. The content below is intended to help faculty translate those general expectations into concrete content that enables students to manage their time and navigate courses successfully.

General Course Information: Course title, class meeting times, and class location.

Instructor Information: Instructor name, email address, office location, office phone, and office hours. (Note: 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 will address potential barriers that students might face for a wide variety of reasons, such as illness or athletic travel.)

Course Description: In keeping with the version published in the course catalog.

Course Objectives: Key learning outcomes that students are expected to meet by taking the course (i.e., things you want students to understand or to be able to communicate or demonstrate through their engagement in the course).

Instructional Methodology: General description of how the course will be taught and/or how students will be expected to engage (e.g., lecture course with discussion sections, flipped classroom, field work, group projects). (Note: it is helpful to include important course policies or expectations here–such as attendance, late work, missed exams, or class participation–to help establish a clear sense of how the course will work.)

Grading Information: The methods by which students will be assessed during the course (e.g., exams, essays, presentations) and the percentage of the overall course grade for each method of assessment. (Ex: homework = 20%, exams = 40%, group project = 20%, participation = 20%.) (Note: it can be helpful to provide an overview of assessment processes that might be unfamiliar to students, such as the use of grading rubrics.)

Course Materials: Required texts and other substantive materials (e.g, lab supplies, outdoor gear) that students will need throughout the semester as well as information about how students can access/acquire materials (e.g., library reserve, Canvas site, course packet). (When applicable, please note the course materials that are available in electronic format since these reduce accessibility barriers for students.)

Course Outline with Tentative Deadlines: Outline that breaks down what content will be covered over the course of the semester with tentative due dates for major projects, papers, and exams. (A sample format for a course outline is provided in the last section on this page.)

It is also helpful to include standardized language in all course syllabi that reinforces key College policies and campus resources (e.g., academic integrity, disability access and accommodation, academic support). (Sample language is included in the next section.)

An adaptable template for a course syllabus is available online.

Reducing Barriers: The WHY of the WHAT and the WHEN

Having a course 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 course 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 (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 deadlines.

  • Micro-level time management: Providing an outline that breaks down when content will be covered over the course of the semester allows students to get a sense of 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 course syllabus, these are recommended practices and the benefits they provide for students:

  • Course Policies and Expectations: 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 the 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.

    • Sample classroom environment statement (feel free to use/adapt): This class is a space for each of us to come together and to learn. These are two separate but interconnected goals: building a shared community for learning and co-creating knowledge. Part of the work we will do in this space is to increase our awareness and knowledge of the content we will discuss, and part of the work we will do is to learn with and from each other. Each of us brings our own prior knowledge, lived experience, and individual perspectives to this space, and there is much that each of us can learn from what the members of our community have to share. This class is a space for hearing and being heard, for intentionally creating space for our many voices, and for thoughtfully considering and engaging with each other’s contributions to the knowledge we will co-create.

    • 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.”

  • Course Outline: Providing an outline that breaks down the content that will be covered over the course of the semester is a key factor in student success. The more detailed this outline, the more helpful it will be for students. For example, being able to review how much reading/homework will need to be completed for each class meeting allows students to better manage their time over the course of each week to allow them to meet the expectations for their combined courses. The lead time of having the work schedule mapped out also makes courses more accessible for students who benefit from additional time to complete work. (A sample format for a course outline is provided in the last section on this page.)

  • Campus Resources: 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.

    • The Writing Center is an academic hub for students on campus. It encourages meaningful, exploratory writing. The trained professional and peer tutors (many of whom are embedded in FYS and CW intensive writing courses) are available to work with students on many different types of writing, as well as on the emotional (motivation, confidence, engagement) and cognitive (process, genre, metacognitive) elements of writing. Students are encouraged to schedule appointments wherever they are in their writing process (pre-writing/brainstorming, synthesizing information, revising, etc.)

    • The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research (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 information on how to access support, go to

    • The Disability Resource Center (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.
  • College Policies:

    • 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. Please contact the ADA Coordinators in the DRC at for more information. All discussions will remain confidential.

    • 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.

Making Course Materials Available and Accessible

Semester Start Availability of Assigned Readings: Remember that any assigned readings for the first few weeks of the semester should be available to students either electronically or on reserve. With books no longer purchasable on campus, you cannot expect your students to order the reading and get it in their hands in time to digest it for your class, especially in Weeks 1-2, when students are adding and dropping.

Course Materials Accessibility: Faculty need to provide students materials in accessible formats. As much as possible, confirm that your course materials are in accessible formats and/or have alternative formats available. Below are a few key recommendations.

  • Ideally, documents should be in Word, which allows students to adjust the font type and size. This guidance comes from our partners in DLINQ and the DRC, who work closely with students on matters of accessibility.
  • Videos should have captions available (and on display when used in class).
  • Audio should have transcripts available.
  • Using a microphone when available also helps make your lecture content more accessible by increasing clarity.

If you are unsure about your course material’s accessibility, please check with the Disability Resource Center. Also see DLINQ’s resources for creating accessible digital materials.

Breaking it Down: A Sample Format for Course Outlines

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

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


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]