Developing the Course Syllabus

Important Information

As required by the Institute’s accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), we must archive all syllabi and document the full cycle of learning outcomes assessment in every course taught, in every semester each course is taught. Thus, faculty are required to create a Scheduled Teaching Record for their BANNER assigned courses in the DigitalMeasures® online system (accessible via rpinfo.rpi.edu -- listed under “Faculty and Staff Resources”) with a copy of the actual syllabus distributed to students attached to this record. In setting up Scheduled Teaching records, please pay particular attention to the section on Learning Outcomes and Assessment Measures on the system’s Scheduled Teaching screens.

The Institute Standard Syllabus

The Faculty Handbook requires that instructors provide students with the following information at the beginning of each semester for every course. This information is contained in required fields in Identification/Contact and Scheduled Teaching screens in DigitalMeasures®. Thus, syllabi generated using DM will include all of the following required information.

  • Course Name, Course Number, Place, and Time
  • Instructor and Teaching Assistants contact information, office hours and location
  • Title of text(s) or other reading materials. (If you do not plan to rely heavily on the text, please inform students so they may consider whether or not to purchase the text.)
  • Times and location(s) of instructor's office hours. (Please also post these outside of your office.)
  • Wherever possible, dates and times of all major exams and major papers should be provided to the students (so students can practice time management). Reminder: the Faculty Senate Curriculum Committee has discouraged giving midterm or hourly exams outside of scheduled class hours.
  • Course Learning Outcomes
  • Course Calendar - In some courses, it is helpful to include due dates for specific assignments (at least for the first few weeks). This is particularly important in undergraduate courses.
  • Attendance policy: Documentation for excused absences is now processed by the Student Experience office (these were previously processed through the Dean of Students office). If students need an official excuse, please direct them to the Student Experience office – 4th floor of Academy Hall, x8022, se@rpi.edu.
  • Course Policies and other rules
  • A specific statement regarding academic integrity
  • Assessment Measures (exams, projects, quizzes, homework, etc.)
  • Grading Criteria used for the course
    • The fraction of the total grade determined by each course assessment (e.g., exams, papers, recitation performance, homework, labs, projects, etc.).
    • Whether a single poor performance will be dropped or weighted lower, or if some form of “resurrection” will be built into the grading system.
    • The means by which students may appeal grades.

For assistance on writing learning outcomes, visit Learning Outcomes.

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.