Syllabus Design

Overview

Your syllabus is your students’ first look into your course. It tells them what to expect in the course content, but it also sets up the learning environment (for good or for bad). In order to provide a welcoming, inclusive, and productive learning environment, there are a few syllabus strategies and tools for you to consider.

Syllabus and Course Design

First, it is important to note that good syllabus design is founded upon solid course design. A syllabus should include the basic elements, such as general course information, course description, textbook/materials, prerequisites, requirements, policies, and course schedule. But beyond that, to give students a real sense of your teaching and rationale, your syllabus should include:

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  • Avoid attendance policies. These policies disadvantage students with medical needs as well as students facing personal emergencies.
  • Make due dates flexible over a short period of time. For example, open an assignment dropbox on Monday and keep it open until Thursday. This allows students to plan ahead or deal with unforeseen circumstances without missing a deadline.
  • Be extra clear about due dates, penalties for academic dishonesty, and other course policies. Eliminating ambiguity helps reduce anxiety in students.
  • Avoid banning laptops—students may have a need for a computer in order to learn.
  • Create a syllabus that shares strategies for students to be successful in your course.
  • Share links and information about campus resources, such as the Center for Excellence in Writing and Communication, Student Health Center, Counseling Center, and more.
  • Write your own inclusive statement and share with your students
  • Encourages respectful communication in an effort to promote inclusivity and reduce polarization and marginalization in the classroom

Learning Outcomes

  • Insert around 3 outcomes.
  • Would you like them to focus on particular content? What about transferrable skills (critically think, communicate, etc.)?
  • Carefully think about what level of Bloom’s Taxonomy you would like to highlight here, and be sure to use active and concrete Bloom’s verbs for your SLOs.
  • SLOs should be student-centered, concrete, and observable/assessable.

Assessment Alignment

  • Instructors might consider connecting assessments with Student Learning Outcomes. [for example — an assignment where students provide a sample coding scheme for analyzing qualitative data relates directly to the following SLO: “Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to analyze textual data.”]

Student and Learning Resources

Rights and Responsibilities

  • How do you expect students to behave to maintain a positive learning environment?
  • Students should act in accordance to the UC Irvine Code of Student Conduct.
  • What are your policies for students who do not act appropriately in class?

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  • Avoid attendance policies. These policies disadvantage students with medical needs as well as students facing personal emergencies.
  • Make due dates flexible over a short period of time. For example, open an assignment dropbox on Monday and keep it open until Thursday. This allows students to plan ahead or deal with unforeseen circumstances without missing a deadline.
  • Be extra clear about due dates, penalties for academic dishonesty, and other course policies. Eliminating ambiguity helps reduce anxiety in students.
  • Avoid banning laptops—students may have a need for a computer in order to learn.
  • Create a syllabus that shares strategies for students to be successful in your course.
  • Share links and information about campus resources, such as the Center for Excellence in Writing and Communication, Student Health Center, Counseling Center, and more.
  • Write your own inclusive statement and share with your students
  • Encourages respectful communication in an effort to promote inclusivity and reduce polarization and marginalization in the classroom

Teaching Philosophy/Persona

  • Welcome your students to the course.
  • Introduce broad course goals
  • Set a standard of communication between instructor and students
  • Note: Stay positive and keep it student-centered!

Statement on Accomodations

  • Accomodations for students eligible for disability services must be outlined here. Advise the students to contact the Disability Services Center (DSC) and make the appropriate arrangement themselves. It is advisable to include a deadline for students early in the quarter.

Disclaimer

  • It is recommended that you include a disclaimer about possible changes to the class in creating a legally sound syllabus

And More...

  • Example: Give the students a few steps for how best to succeed in your class. For example: play an active role in their education, come to class prepared (what does this mean?), focus on learning, etc. It is important to stay positive and make the steps simple and realistic. Are there any campus resources you think are important for your class?

Source: Syllabus Design | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University 

To find more ideas for what to include in a more comprehensive syllabus, use DTEI’s Multimodal Syllabus Template.

Inclusion and Tone

The accessible syllabus project highlights the importance of using warm, positive, and inviting language over punitive and authoritarian language. Many times a course syllabus gets revised based upon an instructor’s past experiences with students and can become negative and uninviting when it should be providing a positive and welcoming environment to a set of completely new students. In order to maintain a welcoming tone, use these tips:

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Emphasize Positive over Punishing Language

A focus on learning accessibility and demonstrating a welcoming tone (and other UDL techniques) can lead students to positively interpret your syllabus.

Create invitations over commands

Invitations over commands highlights students’ agency in a course.

Choose cooperative over paternalistic rhetoric

Choose to explain what students can do instead of what they ought not to do to promote student agency.

Source: Rhetoric – Accessible Syllabus

For more strategies about how to create an inclusive learning environment through your course syllabus, check out the UCI Course Design DEI Rubric

Syllabus Design Tools & Resources

Below is a list of tools designed specifically for UCI faculty to help build a comprehensive and welcoming course syllabus:

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Multimodal Syllabus Template

DTEI has created syllabus templates to help you create comprehensive and inclusive syllabi for your courses no matter what mode.

Notebook and Pen

Multimodal Syllabus Checklist

This checklist was developed to guide faculty in developing an inclusive syllabus for multimodal teaching.

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Standard Syllabus Language for 2021/22

This document contains standard language that can be included in your syllabus. Most of the document focuses specifically on COVID related conditions, and may change as the pandemic evolves. Where possible, the wording has been kept broad.

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Emergency Preparedness

UCI Emergency Preparedness has prepared a handout to include in your syllabus to guide your students what to do in an emergency.