September 27, 2018

Designing Your Syllabus

Syllabi (in any form) should be available on or before the first day of class to all students. There are several options available when choosing the format in which you will present your syllabus. Many faculty choose traditional paper formats, while others choose to embed course information in Blackboard (see the faculty guide to Blackboard for more information).

For those who decide to use Blackboard or another digital method to share the syllabus, you may still wish to provide or direct students during the first week to basic course and contact information and indicate clear instructions on how to access the schedule, important policies, and other course information. Faculty who are using a digital syllabus should ensure that all students in the course are aware of and know how to access the electronic format (such as Blackboard), with appropriate assistance if needed.

At one level, a course syllabus is a contract between the instructor and the student and is a vital tool for communicating expectations between students and faculty. A well-constructed syllabus provides a road map for the course, answers frequently asked questions, can help to lessen student anxiety, and allows the faculty member to concentrate on instruction.

At another level, though, a syllabus is the embodiment of your philosophy of teaching and learning, and sets the tone for the course. Implicit in every policy, every assignment, every choice of textbook, every discussion topic should be an indication of what you want your students to learn from your course and why you want them to learn it. Because critical thinking is at the heart of academic work, you should emphasize how your course will help students develop the kinds of skills with inquiry and problem solving that will benefit them throughout their time in college and into their lives as professionals.

The following checklist can assist you in determining whether your syllabus includes all of the components considered essential.

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Basic Information

– About you (and your TA):

  • Name
  • Title
  • Address
  • Office phone numbers (may also include personal phone number, but this is not required)
  • Mason e-mail address
  • Website or course management system (if any)
  • Office hours – All faculty are expected to be available to meet with and respond to students as appropriate. All syllabi should inform students how and when faculty are available. Faculty teaching online courses should make clear how and when students can connect with them in the online space.

– Course

  • Course number and section
  • Title
  • Meeting days and times
  • Building and room

– Prerequisites (course and/or skills)

– Required purchases (texts and supplies)

– Optional: Space for names and telephone numbers of at least two classmates

  • You can ask students to fill this in on the first day – this connects them with others in the class, gives them someone to contact about questions, and starts to build a community in the classroom.

About the Course

– Description of the course.

  • Why do people study this area of knowledge?
  • How will instruction be handled: lectures, discussions, group work, labs, etc.?
  • What is the value of the course to the student?
  • How does this particular course fit into the student’s discipline or general education requirement?
  • Why is the course content arranged in this order?

Course goals and objectives. What factual material, characteristics, qualities, abilities, or competencies do you expect the student to have mastered at the end of the course?

Mason Core requirements fulfilled by this course (if applicable).

Grading and Course Requirements

– Grading standards, weight, and criteria for each graded component to be included in the final grade. This may include points for class participation. See detailed information for grading tips and policies.

– Course assignments and projects:

  • Due dates
  • Format suggestions/requirements
  • Level/type of research expected
  • Key criteria for grading, including content, scope or length, structure, and presentation
  • An explanation of the purpose of each assignment and project

General Course Policies (Including Sample Language for Policies on Electronic Devices)

The University Catalog is the central resource for university policies affecting student, faculty, and staff conduct in university academic affairs. However, faculty have the authority to set additional policies for their class.

  • Regarding attendance and participation. If participation is included in the grade, how do you define and measure participation? Remember that you cannot grade solely based on attendance at Mason; attendance can, however, be factored into the grade for participation.
  • What will be your policies regarding late assignments, make-up exams, and extra credit? These should be noted clearly on your syllabus.
  • How do you envision electronic devices being used for teaching and learning in your class? Your policy on electronic devices (laptops, cell phones, pagers, etc.) should align with your goals. Mason does not currently have a policy for the use of electronic devices in the classroom. Considerations as you construct your own policy include:
    • Are electronic devices required for your class?
    • What are your expectations for student learning?
    • Will the use of electronic devices enhance or impede student learning?
    • What qualifies as a misuse of electronic devices?
    • What happens if students misuse their devices?

The following are four sample statements regarding electronic devices. Please feel free to use these statements in your syllabi or to adapt them as needed for your course. Please note that best practices for policies on electronic devices would include an exception for emergencies involving family or illness, as well as for students with documented disabilities.

For courses in which technology is required:

  • The use of laptop computers is required in this class. You will only be permitted to work on material related to the class, however. Engaging in activities not related to the course (e.g., gaming, email, chat, etc.) will result in a significant deduction in your participation grade.
  • Because this is a computer classroom, we will frequently be using the internet as a means to enhance our discussions. We will also be using the computers for our in-class writing assignments. Please be respectful of your peers and your instructor and do not engage in activities that are unrelated to the class. Such disruptions show a lack of professionalism and may affect your participation grade.

For courses in which technology is NOT required:

  • Cell phones, pagers, and other communicative devices are not allowed in this class. Please keep them stowed away and out of sight. Laptops or tablets (e.g., iPads) may be permitted for the purpose of taking notes only, but you must submit a request in writing to do so. Engaging in activities not related to the course (e.g., gaming, email, chat, etc.) will result in a significant deduction in your participation grade.
  • Regarding electronic devices (such as laptops, cell phones, etc.), please be respectful of your peers and your instructor and do not engage in activities that are unrelated to class. Such disruptions show a lack of professionalism and may affect your participation grade.

University Policies (Including Academic Integrity, Disability Accommodations, Diversity, Title IX, and Student Privacy)

Academic Integrity

Include a statement about academic integrity within the context of your class, including consequences for violating the standards. The University Honor Code is upheld and supported by the Office for Academic Integrity.

The following are sample statements about Academic Integrity shared by Mason faculty. Your goal should be to create a policy statement that is direct, specific, consistent, and equitable. If you are not sure about a policy, please contact the Office of Academic Integrity for advice. Feel free to adapt these statements for your syllabi as needed.

  • The integrity of the University community is affected by the individual choices made by each of us. Mason has an Honor Code with clear guidelines regarding academic integrity. Three fundamental and rather simple principles to follow at all times are that: (1) all work submitted be your own; (2) when using the work or ideas of others, including fellow students, give full credit through accurate citations; and (3) if you are uncertain about the ground rules on a particular assignment, ask for clarification. No grade is important enough to justify academic misconduct. Plagiarism means using the exact words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving the person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or endnotes. Paraphrased material must also be cited, using MLA or APA format. A simple listing of books or articles is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in the academic setting. If you have any doubts about what constitutes plagiarism, please see me.
  • As in many classes, a number of projects in this class are designed to be completed within your study group. With collaborative work, names of all the participants should appear on the work. Collaborative projects may be divided up so that individual group members complete portions of the whole, provided that group members take sufficient steps to ensure that the pieces conceptually fit together in the end product. Other projects are designed to be undertaken independently. In the latter case, you may discuss your ideas with others and conference with peers on drafts of the work; however, it is not appropriate to give your paper to someone else to revise. You are responsible for making certain that there is no question that the work you hand in is your own. If only your name appears on an assignment, your professor has the right to expect that you have done the work yourself, fully and independently.
  • Mason is an Honor Code university; please see the Office for Academic Integrity for a full description of the code and the honor committee process. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.

Disability Accommodations

All syllabi should include a statement about accommodations for disabilities. For more information about accommodations and other information related to students with disabilities, please contact Mason’s Disability Services. Disability Services also offers a faculty guide. The following statements are recommended by DS and the Stearns Center. Please note that faculty are not expected to provide accommodations unless the student presents a letter from DS–but also that students can request approved accommodations from faculty at any point in the semester (going forward, not retroactively). Please feel free to use these statements in your syllabi.

  • Disability Services at George Mason University is committed to upholding the letter and spirit of the laws that ensure equal treatment of people with disabilities. Under the administration of University Life, Disability Services implements and coordinates reasonable accommodations and disability-related services that afford equal access to university programs and activities. Students can begin the registration process with Disability Services at any time during their enrollment at George Mason University. If you are seeking accommodations, please visit for detailed information about the Disability Services registration process. Disability Services is located in Student Union Building I (SUB I), Suite 2500. | Phone: (703) 993-2474
  • Disability Services at George Mason University is committed to providing equitable access to learning opportunities for all students by upholding the laws that ensure equal treatment of people with disabilities. If you are seeking accommodations for this class, please first visit for detailed information about the Disability Services registration process. Then please discuss your approved accommodations with me. Disability Services is located in Student Union Building I (SUB I), Suite 2500. | Phone: (703) 993-2474

Diversity and Inclusion

As a Mason faculty member, you are asked to keep diversity, one of the university’s core values, in mind throughout the semester. See our tips and strategies for Creating Inclusive Classrooms for more information.

You may wish to include a statement on your syllabus that acknowledges your and the university’s commitment to this value. You can include (or link to) the Mason Non-Discrimination Policy or the Mason Diversity Statement, or include a statement like one of these:

  • Women and Gender Studies seeks to create a learning environment that fosters respect for people across identities. We welcome and value individuals and their differences, including gender expression and identity, race, economic status, sex, sexuality, ethnicity, national origin, first language, religion, age and ability. We encourage all members of the learning environment to engage with the material personally, but to also be open to exploring and learning from experiences different than their own.

  • The School of Integrative Studies, an intentionally inclusive community, promotes and maintains an equitable and just work and learning environment. We welcome and value individuals and their differences including race, economic status, gender expression and identity, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, first language, religion, age, and disability.

    Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Interpersonal Violence

    George Mason University is committed to providing a learning, living and working environment that is free from discrimination and a campus that is free of sexual misconduct and other acts of interpersonal violence in order to promote community well-being and student success. We encourage students who believe that they have been sexually harassed, assaulted or subjected to sexual misconduct to seek assistance and support. University Policy 1202: Sexual Harassment and Misconduct speaks to the specifics of Mason’s process, the resources, and the options available to students. As a faculty member, you may wish to include information about this on your syllabus. In addition to using any of the above language, consider including the following:


    Student privacy is governed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and is an essential aspect of any course. Instructor responsibilities with respect to student privacy are an important consideration when designing your syllabus, especially–though certainly not exclusively–when it comes to faculty and student digital communication. For that reason, please require students to use their Mason email. As an employee of the state of Virginia, it is also required that you use your Mason email when communicating with students. Sample syllabus language for email usage:

    • Students must use their MasonLive email account to receive important University information, including communications related to this class. I will not respond to messages sent from or send messages to a non-Mason email address.

    Student emails: In addition, please be aware that as of Fall 2018, Virginia law designates student email addresses as among the records that must be kept strictly private unless students give written consent for sharing. Please use bcc when emailing to multiple students, to shield their email addresses, or email students from within Blackboard; you should not require students to share email addresses with other students.

    Recording a class: Mason does not have a policy about student recording of class sessions. There is still some debate nationally about whether FERPA prohibits or limits student recording and/or sharing of recordings: some recordings may be limited, while others may fall within student freedom of speech. As a faculty member creating unique content and developing a classroom community, you may certainly request that students not share course materials, and make the case why that behavior would violate important ethical standards.

    Undergraduate Course Repetition

    Students should be aware of their options for repeating an undergraduate class for credit; these policies changed in 2018. Faculty teaching high-volume undergraduate courses (such as those required for Mason Core or the major) are especially encouraged to inform students of the course repetition policy through a statement on the syllabus:

    • Beginning fall 2018, there is a limit of three graded attempts for this course. A W does not count as a graded attempt. Please see AP. 1.3.4 in the University Catalog and consult with your academic advisor if you have any questions.

    Course Schedule (including academic and religious calendars)

    • It is important to give students sense of the course schedule for the semester. You may reserve the right to make adjustments, of course, but be aware that many of our students actively use the course schedule as they plan their semesters.
    • Please use Mason’s Semester Calendar and Final Exam Schedule to set due dates for your assignments, projects, and final exams.
    • In your course planning, be aware of the demographics of our diverse student body. For example, to minimize difficulties for students of different faith traditions, be aware of the calendar of religious holidays and observations. Mason also has a number of students who have served our country in the military. When planning your fall semester, we ask that you practice sensitivity and flexibility for those students who wish to observe Veterans Day without penalizing their success in your courses.

    Student Support Resources on Campus

    Related Resources

    Innovations Conference

    Active Learning

    Multilingual Students