Best Practices for Designing a Learning-Centered Syllabus

Office Hours

Describe location of your office and the days and times when you will be available to meet with students in your office to discuss the course or provide advising. Expectations about faculty availability during office hours vary across departments. Check with your department about the number of office hours you should schedule each week.

ISBN Numbers for Textbooks

The University complies with the Florida Textbook Affordability Act (2008) by posting ISBN numbers for all required textbooks on the University Bookstore web site. Include ISBN numbers for required texts on the syllabus to increase the accessibility of this information to students.

Student Learning Outcomes

One or more course student learning outcomes (SLOs) align with one or more program-level learning outcomes.

Course Description

Course description identifies prerequisite or co-requisite courses; identifies other roles the course might play in the curriculum (e.g. satisfies a Gordon Rule or General Education requirement, course satisfies a requirement for majors). You might also describe how the course will develop skills students will use in other courses or describe instructor-specific goals for the course. 

Introduce yourself and describe your professional background

The syllabus is an instructor’s first opportunity to engage students, stimulate interest in course content, and motivate students.  New, less experienced faculty can establish their professional credentials with students by briefly describing their academic background and professional skills that are directly related to the course.  Briefly describe why the course topics interest you or are important for work in the discipline.  

Identify Specialized Software, Technology, Technology Skills, and Study Strategies Students Will Need to Succeed in the Course

Identify special skills with technology or software required to complete assigned work in the class. Describe study strategies that promote successful learning in your course. Some instructors encourage students to form study groups or use publisher-sponsored web sites with free study resources.

The academic course search pages on the UWF web site include icons for each course that allow students to view the course syllabus, determine whether the course is an eLearning course or a distance learning course (and whether the instructor will be present in the location for that section), determine the extent of computer use expected in the course, and identify other technology needs associated with the course (special software available only in a lab, Elluminate, need to purchase a clicker, use of proctored exams, and other specialized software or technology needs).

If you expect students to use specific technology in your course, identify these needs on your syllabus and set the appropriate technology codes for the course. After logging into MyUWF, select the Classmate App and then click on the Syllabus/Tech Codes link under Action to open an interface for uploading your syllabus. This interface also includes drop-down menus that allow instructors to set technology codes for their course. When a technology code is selected, the appropriate icon will appear in the course search output for this course. A full list of the technology code is available in Nautical.

Describe Resources on Campus Where Students Can Ask For Assistance

Describe assistance to all students to help them succeed in the course: Describe effective study strategies. Describe resources available to students at UWF for tutoring, assistance with technology, or other assistance (e.g., assistance with writing or conducting library research) that will help students succeed in your course. 

Provide information about the Writing Lab for courses with large demands on written work. Describe your expectations about the required editorial style (e.g., APA style, MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, Turabian) if you expect students to use a specific editorial style on written assignments for your course.

Instructor-established Policies for the Course

Instructors have discretion to establish many course policies: Policies for acceptance of late work; permission to make up a missed exam; procedures to request extensions of deadlines or arrange alternate exam dates when conflicts arise with official University functions (e.g.; travel for athletes, debate teams, etc.). Instructor policies may also include classroom behavior policies (e.g., use of laptops in class, turning off cell phones, eating, sleeping, face-to-face civility matters, etc.).

Describe these specific policies on the syllabus. Clear descriptions of course policies on the syllabus will minimize the frequency of special requests from students and will help instructors minimize the time spent negotiating requests on a case-by-case basis.

Examples of common situation for which instructors establish course policies:

Late work. Do you accept late work? If so, describe any penalties on grades that you will impose on late work. If you do not accept late work, state this on your syllabus. If you say nothing about late work on your syllabus, students will think you might consider accepting it and make requests for extensions.

Extra credit. Do you assign additional work to allow students to earn extra credit? Establish the boundaries for earning extra credit on the syllabus to prevent the stress of negotiating these requests late in the term when students are anxious. Describe when extra assignments will be given and the amount of extra credit that can be earned or include a statement that extra credit work will not be assigned. Keep in mind that assigning extra credit to one student creates an advantage for that student that is not available to all students. Students might perceive a decision to allow one student to submit work for extra credit as preferential treatment that is unfair to the class. If you provide opportunities for extra credit, make them equitable.

Making up missed exams or in-class assignments. Describe your policy about in-class activities and assignments that a student misses because of an absence. Do you allow make-up exams? Under what conditions (in addition to University-established excused absences) will you allow students to arrange a make-up exam? Will the make-up exam differ from the exam given at the scheduled time? Some in-class activities depend on the interaction of multiple students in the class to be effective and cannot be made up later. Explaining this in the syllabus might motivate students to attend class.

Class participation. Do you require participation in class discussions and activities? How will you evaluate participation? If students are expected to work in small groups or teams, explain how their contribution to group work will be evaluated.

Describe expectations about classroom behavior to promote standards for classroom civility

Describe expectations for classroom decorum/behavior/civility. In eLearning courses, expectations may apply to decorum in online discussion threads, email communications, ect. 

Instructors have different rules about whether students can use laptops and electronic devices or make recordings during class.  Instructors also differ in their preferences about personal behaviors that have an impact on the overall climate of a class.  Set a positive tone for civil discourse by establishing ground rules for classroom conduct.  A clear description of expectations about classroom behavior creates a firm foundation that helps instructors resolve conflicts should a student violate these expectations.

Do cell phones interrupt your train of thought?  Inform your students of your classroom policy about the use of cell phones and other electronic devices.  Describe any other student behaviors that you want to regulate during class meetings (eating, side conversations, and expectations about civil interaction when students address other students).  Establish your ground rules for class in your syllabus.  An example of a paragraph on classroom behavior follows, but individual instructors are free to establish the rules of conduct they need to create a functional atmosphere in their particular classes.

Some instructors hold a discussion during the first class meeting to establish mutual rules of conduct that will promote learning.  In this activity, students identify student behaviors that disrupt their ability to concentrate and learn during class.  They may also describe instructor behaviors that benefit (or disrupt) their ability to learn.  Similarly, instructors contribute their expectations about student demeanor. This discussion helps socialize new students who might be uninformed about appropriate academic behavior and allows the class to reach consensus about how it will function as a community.  An instructor who plans to use this strategy to establish rules of conduct for his or her class might include a brief paragraph describing this activity on the syllabus and describe how you will inform students of the rules that emerge from class discussion.  Some instructors will repost the syllabus with the mutually-agreed-upon rules of conduct added.

Contact CUTLA (473-7435 or cutla@uwf.edu) for First Day of Class activity ideas. 

 

Sample of a Statement on Classroom Behavior

Classroom courtesy is essential. Students who attend class are motivated to learn and are annoyed when other students engage in disruptive behavior. Cell phones, beepers, chatting with friends, making noise with food and food wrappings, and similar behaviors are annoying and distracting to other students. Please respect the right of each student to hear and participate in class discussion. Turn off all cell phones and beepers during class (or put them on buzz and sit near the door if a personal emergency requires that you be available to the outside world during class). If you must respond to a call or feel the need to converse with a classmate, please leave the room so that your activities will not disrupt class or interfere with the attention of other students. Student anxiety during an exam increases their sensitivity to noise and distractions. Please be particularly attentive to the effects of your actions and help maintain an appropriate environment during exams.

Descriptions of specific projects or assignments

Descriptions of specific projects beyond the weight a project receives when computing the final grade. May refer to more detailed information that will be provided in a separate handout provided in class or located in eLearning or on a web site. 

Grading Key or Rubric

Provide a grading key or rubric in the syllabus to indicate where students can find the rubric (e.g., in eLearning, on a web site, or as a handout). 

High Impact Pedagogical Practices

Describe one or more high impact pedagogical practices for the course. Examples of HIPPs: Graded participation in class or in class discussions; "flipped class" procedures; work with other students (during class or outside of class); class presentations; prepare two or more drafts of a paper or assignments; classes that entail serious and respectful conversations with students who differ on dimensions of race, ethnicity, religious or political beliefs, or personal values; apply learning to real-world problems; formal reflections on how or what students are learning; participation in a campus event, speaker, or activity related to course goals; required use of a campus learning support service or resource; graded community-based project; small-scale introduction to research, service learning, study abroad, or internship experiences.

Notify Students of Your Intention to Review Student Work for Authenticity with iThenticate or Turnitin

A notice on the course syllabus about the possible use of Turnitin, iThenticate, or other methods for checking authenticity of authorship can motivate students to take greater care in adhering to good authorship practices. A "best practice" in syllabus construction is to include a statement on the course syllabus if you intend to submit any written work by students to the Turnitin or iThenticate service to evaluate text for originality. Consider including a reference to the UWF Turnitin website or the UWF iThenticate website to inform students about how the service works. Instructors have the right to investigate the authenticity of student work with a variety of research tools. Consider describing other tools you might use to validate authorship of written material.

Note: Instructors who do not include this statement on a syllabus are entitled to use turnitin, iThenticate, or other strategies to investigate suspected cases of academic dishonesty.

Additional Information to Include on the Course Calendar

Identify beginning dates for discussions based on readings. Remind students of important University deadlines such as the last day to withdraw with an automatic grade of W. Plan to return at least one evaluation of student work (an exam or assignment) before the course withdrawal deadline passes so students have objective data on which to make their decision to continue with the course or drop.

Information for Course Continuity Following a Campus Emergency

The following statement may be included on the syllabus to inform students about University closures and how course work will be handled during and following an emergency or natural disaster. Some instructors develop contingency plans for personal emergencies such as onset of a serious health problem during a term.

                Recommended statement to include in syllabus:

In the case of severe weather or other emergency, the campus might be closed and classes cancelled. Official closures and delays are announced on the UWF website and broadcast on WUWF-FM.

Weather Emergency Information

WUWF-FM (88.1MHz) is the official information source for the University. Any pertinent information regarding closings, cancellations, and the re-opening of campus will be broadcast.

In the event that hurricane preparation procedures are initiated, the UWF Home Web Page and MyUWF will both provide current information regarding hurricane preparation procedures, the status of classes, and the closing of the University.

Emergency plans for the University of West Florida related to inclement weather are available on the following UWF web pages:

Hurricane preparedness
Other emergency procedures


Additional Resources on Designing a Learning-centered Syllabus

Iowa State University, Syllabus Best Practices, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

References

Note: These materials are available in the CUTLA library.

Blumberg, P. (2009). Developing learner-centered teaching: A practical guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Davis, B. G. (1993). Tools for teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Diamond, R. M. (2008). Designing and assessing courses and curricula: A practical guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lang, J. M. (2008). On course: A week-by-week guide to your first semester of college teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nilson, L. B. (2003). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Anker.

O'Brien, J. G., Millis, B. J., & Cohen, M. W. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Svinicki, M., & McKeachie, W. J. (Eds.) (2011). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cenage.

Wehlburg, C. M. (2006). Meaningful course revision: Enhancing academic engagement using student learning data. San Francisco: Anker.

Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Required Components

Components expected for all Syllabi at UWF

UWF Syllabi

Best Practices

Best Practices for designing a learning-centered syllabus

Syllabi Best Practices

Updated: 08/07/15  ecr

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