Developing the Course Syllabus

There are many ways to write a syllabus, ranging from a one-page list of course name, instructor contact and text used, to a laborious and lengthy treatment. Books have been written on how to make a syllabus. Looking at the many models and styles, some sections are common to all.

The literature mentions several sections that a syllabus should list:

  • Course Name, Course Number, Place, and Time
  • Instructor and Teaching Assistants contact information, office hours and location
  • Textbook and readings
  • Course Learning Outcomes
  • Course Calendar
  • Assessment Measures (exams, projects, quizzes, homework, etc.)
  • Grading Criteria used for the course
  • Academic Integrity
  • Course Policies and other rules

A syllabus is a planning tool. It helps the instructor organize the course, define goals and student learning outcomes, as well as plan course assessment and the calendar. The syllabus is also a guide for the students who take the course described. As a guide, it should communicate in a clear and detailed manner the course content, teaching approaches, requirements, and expectations. Because the syllabus is a document that communicates with a larger, secondary audience (colleagues, administrators, accreditation agencies), it is also a reference guide.

For Readers Planning a New Course

In the process of planning a course and drafting its syllabus, the instructor must decide which topics will be covered in the course and, for each topic, the expected learning level that will be demonstrated by students. Based on that decision, the instructor will plan appropriate assessment measures. The ideal is a balance of measurable learning outcomes attuned to the relative importance of the different topics taught by the instructor. The instructor is the one who decides the topics in which students should demonstrate higher levels of thinking, and the instructor accordingly plans assessment measures focused on those topics.

A useful tool (one of many) in planning for expected levels of teaching, learning, and assessment is Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom’s taxonomy offers a useful guide to map out the instructor’s plans for the course and provides an easy way to think about appropriate assessment tools. Bloom’s revised taxonomy takes into account the learners’ thinking and knowledge-based abilities.

Bloom classified cognitive skills in six levels from lower (remembering, understanding) to higher levels of thinking (applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating).

When planning activities and assessment for course purposes the first step is mapping each topic studied in the course to the desired cognitive level of thinking and knowledge. In the next step the instructor derives the learning outcomes and matching assessment type for each topic.