Note: Article last updated February 7, 2014, 4:00 p.m. CST.
Much can be learned by studying other instructors’ syllabi. In this article I present samples of real syllabi that I retrieved off the Internet.
The following four syllabi illustrate a variety of techniques used by college instructors. Presenting a comprehensive study of college syllabi design techniques would be an insurmountable task. My purpose is not to make you aware of all the viable approaches for creating syllabi, but rather to help you get used to making you own judgments as to what format will best serve you and your students.
Critique these four syllabi, and let me know what you think. Do you agree with my comments? Do you have things to add? By all means, let me know if there is a syllabus you recommend adding to this article.
NOTE: There is value to students if they their syllabi are laid out in similar fashion for all their courses. Find out if your college as a standard format they want you to follow.
Purdue History Syllabus
This syllabus illustrates several good practices. It begins with a concise presentation of contact information. I like the point-based grading scheme and the detailed schedule. The course description provides more detail than most.
CHALLENGE: See if you can edit the description down to four or five sentences.
The non-mandatory attendance policy challenges students to act maturely. However this course, History 152, seems to be a freshman course. I suspect that some freshman taking this class learn a lesson the hard way. If a significant percentage of students take advantage of this policy, I would encourage the instructor to address the situation.
QUESTION: What do you think of the attendance policy? Would you change it? If not, why not? If so, how?
Credit: This syllabus was retrieved online February 4, 2014, at http://www.cla.purdue.edu/history/graduate/hgsa/documents/samplesyllabi/152-3-Bayless.pdf.
University of Florida Communications Syllabus
This syllabus mentions a term that may not be familiar to you – the Gordon Rule. The Gordon Rule is a set of writing and math requirements required to graduate from college in the state of Florida. Why do I mention this? As an adjunct, you will hopefully be given sample syllabi. If there is an term unfamiliar to you, look into it. If you were teaching a Gordon Rule course at a Florida public university, you would need to assess your students against very specific learning objectives. That is extremely important to know.
I wonder what you think of this syllabus in general. My first reaction was wow; this is long! The instructor has included many course details that others might include elsewhere (i.e. in handouts, on the course website, etc.). The fact that so much is included leads me to believe that the instructor wants to educate students on all these points immediately during the first class. I would hope the instructor does just that. A benefit to the students is that there will be few surprises down the line.
QUESTION: Do you find the Class Participation grading policy as confusing as I do? There are 100 possible points, and a student can earn 7 points simply by attending each class. In a 16-week semester, a student could earn 112 points. Hummm? Then, at the top of page 2 the instructor states that pop quizzes contribute to participation points. But wait, on page 3 the Course Point Breakdown shows a separate 100 points for quizzes.
QUESTION: What do you think of the Journal grading policy? Is the instructor being too knit-picky? I can argue no. Agree or disagree?
COMMENT: On page 3 the instructor indicates that no emailed assignments will be accepted. I do not accept the instructor’s reasoning. The are safeguards that can prevent the “tampering” referred to. Regardless, if students are going to plagiarize, they can do so with printed, handed-in insignments.
I do not intend my questioning to be a condemnation of the instructor in any way, but merely to point out that there are often ambiguities in otherwise excellently written syllabi. Perhaps if I had attended the first class session, this would have been clarified.
MY ADVICE: Have someone proofread your syllabus. Another instructor would be a good choice, but so Would a non-teaching friend. Someone unfamiliar with the course is more likely to pose questions from a student’s point of view.
QUESTION: Do you see anything else in this syllabus worthy or a comment or question?
Credit: This syllabus was retrieved online February 4, 2014, at
Santa Fe College Welding Syllabus
The first thing that strikes you about this welding syllabus is the cover page which identifies the college. I have no idea if this cover page follows a college imposed branding protocol, but more and more colleges require specific guidelines be followed on all printed/published materials. The college I retired from was one of them.
This is an open enrollment open exit course that leads to a vocational degree. Such degrees are not transferable to other colleges and universities. However, that does not make the course any less rigorous as evidenced by the syllabus. In fact, degree completion requires passing an American Welding Society certification examination.
CHALLENGE: Compare and contrast the requirements of this course with those above or any other course with which you are familiar. Does it make sense that the requirements for this vocational course are presented in such great detail? Why?
CHALLENGE: Find an element in this syllabus that you like but had not previously have considered adding to your own course syllabus.
Credit: This syllabus was retrieved online February 5, 2014, at http://education.ufl.edu/counselor-education/files/2011/01/SDS4410Fall07Hope.pdf
University of Arizona First-Year Composition Syllabus
Courses such as English Composition require written assignments. As with this University of Arizona course, there are no tests per se. Instructors are well advised to provide students with explicit criteria as to how their written assignments will be graded. These are known in academia as rubrics. In this case, the instructor has provided addional information of this sort on the English 101: First-Year Composition course website.
CHALLENGE: Take a look at Assignment #1 THE TEXTUAL ANALYSIS ESSAY and decide if the instructor has adequately examples how this assignment will be graded.
CHALLENGE: Look at how information is presented online for the students to access. Determine if your course would benefit from a similar online presentation of materials.
Credit: This syllabus was retrieved online February 5, 2014, at http://www.u.arizona.edu/~sung/english101/.