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.
Finally, you may want to use your syllabus to alert students, particularly new and transfer students, to resources that can help them be successful on campus and in their coursework at Mason.
Stearns Center does not provide a “template” for all syllabi, because these choices are left to the colleges, schools, and local academic units. Please contact your course lead or department/program head to find out about all other local expectations and policies.
However, the following checklists can assist you in determining whether your syllabus includes all of the components considered essential. (And for a quick tool that will generate all the precise dates of your course meetings this semester, see this schedule generator.)
- Spring 2021 Note 1: For information about safe-return-to-campus policies and faculty options and responsibilities in interacting with students, please see the Safe Return to Campus FAQs for Faculty.
- Spring 2021 Note 2: President Washington’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force continues to work this spring to address his goals for the Mason community; committees continue their work on addressing his call for anti-racism language that faculty can add to their syllabi, as well as creating resources for faculty to implement anti-racist teaching practices that will align with such policies. Outreach to larger groups of faculty, via townhalls and other events, will be a key part of the work of Spring 2021. In the meantime, Stearns Center encourages faculty to continue to commit to anti-racist and inclusive practices; if you would like to acknowledge your commitment on your syllabus, please see some recommended language under the University Policies section of this page.
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– About you (and your TA):
- 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, whether in person or virtually. 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.
- Optional: Communication Policy. How quickly will you plan to respond to student queries, by email and/or via an “Ask the Instructor” discussion forum in Blackboard? Will you respond on weekends or after 10 pm?
- Course number and section
- 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
Policies About Student Engagement
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.
Student Participation and Assignments
- 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.
- Spring 2021 Note: Your college, school, department, or unit may have specific guidance about creating opportunities for students who are ill or quarantined to make up class work or assignments, and you should follow those policies
- Spring 2021 Note: In areas where your college, school, department, or unit does not have specific guidance, you may want to articulate clear policies that take the special circumstances of this semester into account; for some suggestions, see our advice sheet
Student and Faculty Names and Pronouns
Having a name and pronouns statement helps foster a community of learners of all genders and gender expressions. It promotes gender inclusivity and supports an understanding of a student’s name and pronouns that originates with the learner. In addition, it discourages incorrect assumptions and harmful misgendering, encourages dialogue as befits the learner’s comfort, demonstrates respect, and fosters an LGBTQIA+ inclusive environment at Mason.
This name and pronouns statement was co-authored in 2014 by students in TQ Mason (Mason’s trans-inclusive student support / action group) and Film and Video Studies faculty, and has been well received by students and faculty. You are welcome to use or adapt this statement.
- Gender identity and pronoun use: If you wish, please share your name and gender pronouns with me and how best to address you in class and via email. I use [faculty insert your specific pronouns here] for myself and you may address me as “[YOUR NAME]”, “Dr./Prof. [NAME]” or “Mr./Ms./Mx. [NAME]” in email and verbally.
You may also encourage students to use the tools Mason provides to change their name and pronouns on Mason records.
Finally, to support all members of our community, faculty and staff are encouraged to include their pronouns in their email signatures, on name tags, and/or in videoconference names, and to edit documents and language on websites to avoid “he/she” or “male/female” sentence construction.
- For more information about gender-inclusive language and practices, review this brief guide by Mason’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education (ODIME), or this longer guide by the American Psychological Association
Student Use of Electronic Devices
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.
- We will frequently be using the internet as a means to enhance our discussions. We will also be using 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.
NEW 2020-2021: Policies for New Course Structures and Interactions
The following are recommended sample statements. Please check with your department or course coordinator to ensure that your policies reflect accurate positions and needs. You may use these statements in your syllabi as-is, adapt the language to your voice or situation, or create equivalent policies that more directly reflect your course.
For more information about return-to-campus policies and faculty options and responsibilities in interacting with students, please see the Safe Return to Campus FAQs for Faculty.
Recommended: Safe Return to Campus Statement (for students in courses with on-campus meetings)
- All students taking courses with a face-to-face component are required to have completed Safe Return to Campus Training prior to visiting campus. Training is available in Blackboard (https://mymason.gmu.edu). Students are required to follow the university’s public health and safety precautions and procedures outlined on the university Safe Return to Campus webpage (www2.gmu.edu/safe-return-plan). Similarly, all students in face to face and hybrid courses must also complete the Mason COVID Health Check daily, seven days a week. The COVID Health Check system uses a color code system and students will receive either a Green, Yellow, or Red email response. Only students who receive a “green” notification are permitted to attend courses with a face-to-face component. If you suspect that you are sick or have been directed to self-isolate, please quarantine or get testing. Faculty are allowed to ask you to show them that you have received a Green email and are thereby permitted to be in class.
Regarding these new classroom protocols, we acknowledge that students may benefit from some reminders and reinforcement about their responsibilities for safe in-classroom behaviors. Faculty who are teaching with in-person meetings may find advice in the FAQs helpful.
Recommended: Campus Closure
- If the campus closes or class is canceled due to weather or other concern, students should check Blackboard [or other instruction as appropriate] for updates on how to continue learning and information about any changes to events or assignments.
Recommended: Participation and Make-up Work
You may want to consider updating your policies about student work for teaching during a pandemic semester. For instance,
- Your college, school, department, or unit will some have specific guidance about creating opportunities for students who are ill or quarantined to make up class work or assignments, and you should check with your administrators and follow those policies.
- Because of the individual nature of these policies, Stearns Center does not have recommended policy language. However, in areas where your college, school, department, or unit does not have specific guidance, and you want to have some ideas about what issues you should consider, please see our advice sheet.
Spring 2021 Note: Mason’s legal office has indicated that requiring students to turn their cameras on during a required synchronous class meeting (e.g., on Zoom or Collaborate) does not violate any known statute. Given the nature of our ongoing emergency learning situations, Stearns Center recommends that faculty use a cameras-on policy only where it is necessary to adequately judge student mastery of key concepts (not just for “increasing engagement”) and that they provide a clear policy in the syllabus that includes their rationale and defines how students may ask for a reasonable exception to the policy. Stearns Center supports faculty who work with students to build community norms for class participation and/or who use alternate strategies (chat, polls, shared documents) to enable students to demonstrate their attention and comprehension during class.
Recommended: Basic Course Technology Requirements (Two options)
- Activities and assignments in this course will regularly use the Blackboard learning system, available at https://mymason.gmu.edu. Students are required to have regular, reliable access to a computer with an updated operating system (recommended: Windows 10 or Mac OSX 10.13 or higher) and a stable broadband Internet connection (cable modem, DSL, satellite broadband, etc., with a consistent 1.5 Mbps [megabits per second] download speed or higher. You can check your speed settings using the speed test on this website.)
- Activities and assignments in this course will regularly use web-conferencing software (Blackboard Collaborate / Zoom). In addition to the requirements above, students are required to have a device with a functional camera and microphone. In an emergency, students can connect through a telephone call, but video connection is the expected norm.
Recommended: Course Materials and Student Privacy
Videorecordings of class meetings that are shared only with the instructors and students officially enrolled in a class do not violate FERPA or any other privacy expectation. Videorecordings that only include the instructor (no student names, images, voices, or identifiable texts) may be shared without violating FERPA (but see below, University Policies: Privacy, for some qualifications and recommendations)
All course materials posted to Blackboard or other course site are private to this class; by federal law, any materials that identify specific students (via their name, voice, or image) must not be shared with anyone not enrolled in this class.
- Videorecordings — whether made by instructors or students — of class meetings that include audio, visual, or textual information from other students are private and must not be shared outside the class
- Live video conference meetings (e.g. Collaborate or Zoom) that include audio, textual, or visual information from other students must be viewed privately and not shared with others in your household or recorded and shared outside the class
Optional: Course Recordings
If you are recording class meetings via classroom webcam or web-conferencing software, you should alert students to that. Since only class members who ordinarily have the right to access this information will be present, recording and private storage does not violate student privacy; it’s just an informational note.
- Some/All of our synchronous meetings in this class will be recorded to provide necessary information for students in this class. Recordings will be stored on Blackboard [or other secure site] and will only be accessible to students taking this course during this semester.
Optional: Testing with LockDown Browser
This language is suggested; please adapt as necessary to meet the expectations of your course.
This course requires the use of LockDown Browser and a webcam for online exams. The webcam can be built into your computer (internal webcam) or can be the type of webcam that plugs in with a USB cable (external webcam). Watch this short video to get a basic understanding of LockDown Browser and the webcam feature. A Quick Start Guide for Students is also available.
- You will need the following system requirements for online exams:
- Windows: 10, 8, 7
- Mac: OS X 10.10 or higher
- iOS: 10.0+ (iPad only). Must have a compatible LMS integration [Details].
- Web camera (internal or external) & microphone
- A reliable internet connection
- Prior to your first exam, you must install LockDown Browser following the step-by-step instructions.
- To ensure LockDown Browser and the webcam are set up properly, do the following:
- Start LockDown Browser, log into Blackboard and select this course.
- Locate and select the Help Center button on the LockDown Browser toolbar.
- Run the Webcam Check and, if necessary, resolve any issues or permissions your computer prompts.
- Run the System & Network Check. If a problem is indicated, see if a solution is provided in the Knowledge Base. Further troubleshooting is available through the ITS Support Center.
- Exit the Help Center and locate the practice quiz named [NOTE TO INSTRUCTOR: Create a brief practice quiz and insert name/location of quiz].
- Upon completing and submitting the practice quiz, exit LockDown Browser.
- When taking an online exam that requires LockDown Browser and a webcam, remember the following guidelines:
- Ensure you’re in a location where you won’t be interrupted
- Turn off all other devices (e.g. tablets, phones, second computers) and place them outside of your reach
- Clear your desk of all external materials not permitted — books, papers, phones, other devices
- Before starting the test, know how much time is available for it, and that you’ve allotted sufficient time to complete it
- Remain at your computer for the duration of the testMake sure that your computer is plugged into a power source, or that battery is fully-charged.
- If the computer or networking environment is different than what was used previously with the Webcam Check and System & Network Check in LockDown Browser, run the checks again prior to starting the test
- To produce a good webcam video, do the following:
- Do not wear a baseball cap or hat with a brim that obscures your face
- Ensure your computer or tablet is on a firm surface (a desk or table). Do NOT have the computer on your lap, a bed, or any other surface where the device (or you) are likely to move
- If using a built-in (internal) webcam, avoid tilting the screen after the webcam setup is complete
- Take the exam in a well-lit room and avoid backlighting, such as sitting with your back to a window
- Remember that LockDown Browser will prevent you from accessing other websites or applications; you will be unable to exit the test until all questions are completed and submitted
University Policies (Including Academic Integrity, Disability Accommodations, Diversity, Title IX, and Student Privacy)
Recommended: 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.
- Note that the Office of Academic Integrity has a student integrity training module that you can link to or embed in your Blackboard course site.
The following are sample statements about Academic Integrity shared by Mason faculty. See more statements from OAI’s collection. 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 the appropriate format for this class. 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.
Required: 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 http://ds.gmu.edu/ for detailed information about the Disability Services registration process. Disability Services is located in Student Union Building I (SUB I), Suite 2500. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org | 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 http://ds.gmu.edu/ 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. Email:email@example.com | Phone: (703) 993-2474
Diversity and Inclusion
Recommended: 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 and students may want to be aware of support provided by the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment (formerly ODIME and LBGTQ+). 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.
For some course design suggestions and some additional examples of language specifically designed to highlight anti-racist pedagogical approaches, please see this handout created by Mason faculty Dr. Lauren Cattaneo and Dr. Alison Melley.
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 and employees who believe that they have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted or subjected to sexual or interpersonal 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 and employees.
Recommended: 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:
Notice of mandatory reporting of sexual or interpersonal misconduct: As a faculty member, I am designated as a “Non-Confidential Employee,” and must report all disclosures of sexual assault, sexual harassment, interpersonal violence, stalking, sexual exploitation, complicity, and retaliation to Mason’s Title IX Coordinator per University Policy 1202. If you wish to speak with someone confidentially, please contact one of Mason’s confidential resources, such as Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) at 703-380-1434 or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 703-993-2380. You may also seek assistance or support measures from Mason’s Title IX Coordinator by calling 703-993-8730, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Recommended: 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.
Recording and/or sharing class materials
- Recording: Some student recording of class lectures or materials for personal use, especially those that include only the faculty member’s information (e.g., no identifiable names, voices, or images of other students), is generally permitted. Even sharing of some of this material may be allowable (conversations nationally about FERPA often identify how this falls within student freedom of speech).
- Sharing of materials may be limited by what those materials contain and where they are shared:
- Sharing of class materials that contain identifiable student information is limited by FERPA (see “Fall 2020 Policies” on this page for statements about recordings or streamings of class meetings).
- Sharing of instructor-created materials, particularly materials relevant to assignments or exams, to public online “study” sites is considered a violation of Mason’s Honor Code. For more information, see the Office of Academic Integrity’s summary of information about online study sites. They also have a short video you can share with students or embed in your Blackboard course.
Recommended: OAI recommends the following syllabus language:
- Some kinds of participation in online study sites violate the Mason Honor code: these include accessing exam or quiz questions for this class; accessing exam, quiz, or assignment answers for this class; uploading of any of the instructor’s materials or exams; and uploading any of your own answers or finished work. Always consult your syllabus and your professor before using these sites.
As a faculty member creating unique content and developing a classroom community, you may certainly also make the case why unauthorized sharing of any of your materials outside the class would violate important ethical standards. Finally, if you suspect or discover that materials are being hosted on a site such as Chegg, you may contact OAI for their recommended steps and a template letter for reaching out to the site and requesting that materials be deleted.
Undergraduate Course Repetition
Recommended if relevant: 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.
Using Your Syllabus to Set the Tone for Your Class
In addition to identifying policies and providing information, you can use your syllabus to help build relationships and set a tone that support the community of intellectual and collaborative inquiry that you want to establish in your course.
- Build intellectual relationships: Use your syllabus to convey the key questions, purposes, and achievements that people in your field pursue when they study this material, even—perhaps especially!—at the introductory level. What are the particular issues and angles your course will explore, and how do they fit into larger contexts of your program, the major, and the life of an educated person on the planet right now? When you include a few sentences about the intellectual value of your course, you set the stage for building a community of inquirers and thinkers.
- Build learning relationships: Use your syllabus to explain how learning will work in your course. You aren’t assigning “busy work” or automatically tossing in chapters to read just because they’re included in the textbook; you believe that people will learn X best by doing Y first and then Z. Add some language to explain your assignment choices and identify how small assignments support larger, vital learning goals, as part of your care and respect for the learners in your course. This way, students can see themselves as partners in learning rather than just recipients of random (and difficult!) tasks.
- Build empowered relationships: Use your syllabus to indicate how you will grant your students options, choices, and elements of control in their learning in your course, even—perhaps especially!—at the introductory level. Research shows that adult and near-adult learners benefit from greater access to decision-making in their learning: ownership leads to increased enthusiasm, focus, and retention. Add some language about students’ opportunities to decide… on project topics, on whether to drop a low quiz grade, on what the class electronics policy will be, on whether to revise Essay #1, on bonus-credit options, or something else.
- Build optimistic relationships: If your syllabus leans too much on boldfaced “Thou shalt not” language, you might imply a more pessimistic view of students than you actually feel. All faculty need to set boundaries and make expectations clear, but it’s not entirely true that you “shouldn’t smile until October.” Give your syllabus language a review from the point of view of someone who doesn’t already know you as the engaged, enthusiastic, supportive person you are, and see if there’s at least one place where you can dial some negative language back to better showcase that person. Maybe there’s a policy that’s more stringent than you really need, or one that you could phrase in less dire language, or perhaps just one where you could take out the boldface.
Using Your Syllabus to Identify Resources for Students
In addition to identifying policies and providing information, you can use your syllabus to help students navigate their learning opportunities and their general university experience. While many students know that these resources exist, new, transfer, and first-generation students often don’t have a sense of what they can access. In addition, when faculty members suggest both how and why to ask for assistance, we model and support important coping skills. Among the resources you may want to describe and recommend are the following:
- Counseling and Psychological Services
- The Learning Services Office or field-specific tutoring
- The Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education (ODIME)
- University Career Services
- University Writing Center
Information and links regarding these and other student support offices are available on our Student Support Resources on Campus page.