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Guide to Building Your Syllabus


The Purpose of a Syllabus

A syllabus is a living contract between the instructor and his/her students. In The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach, O'Brien, Millis, and Cohen (2008, 2nd Ed.), identify several elements of a learner-centered syllabus, some of which include:

  • Introduces the instructor to the student (i.e., passion, background, pronouns, teaching philosophy, etc.)
  • Establishes an early point of contact and connection between student and instructor
  • Helps set the tone for the course
  • Describes your beliefs about educational purposes
  • Acquaints students with the logistics of the course
  • Defines student responsibilities for successful coursework
  • Describes active learning
  • Establishes prerequisites and helps students assess their readiness for your course
  • Sets the course in a broader context for learning/conceptual framework for the course
  • Describes available learning resources
  • Communicates the role of technology in the course
  • Can serve as a learning contract

 

Syllabus Templates and Examples

Download this Syllabus Template to start your syllabus construction or revision.

Exemplar Syllabi from UC Merced Faculty

General Components of a Syllabus

Others have identified specific components to a syllabus and suggested features to be included. Incorporating these components will ensure that the instructor and students have the same expectations and responsibilities to meet the learning objectives of the course.

  • Basic Information
  • Course Description
  • Learning outcomes/goals/objectives
  • Required Materials
  • Requirements: exams, quizzes, assignments
  • Policies: grading procedures, attendance, participation, etc
  • Schedule: tentative calendar of topics and readings, exam dates, last day to drop date
  • Resources: tips for success, glossaries, links, academic support services, etc
  • Statement on accommodation
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Principles of Community)/ Community Norms and Expectations
  • Evaluation of student performance (grading criteria, etc.)
  • Rights and Expectations: students' and instructors'
  • Safety and Emergency Preparedness
  • UC Merced Academic Integrity Statement (see the UC Merced Instructor Packet for Academic Honesty Policies and Student Code of Conduct)

References

  1. Grunert O'Brien, Judith, Barbara J. Millis and Margaret W. Cohen. (2008). The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach, 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., &Coble, R. (2016). Syllabus Design Guide. Retrieved [7/10/2021] from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/syllabus-design/. Content is licensed under a Creative commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 License.
  3. UC Berkeley on the Syllabus. Retrieve on July 9th at https://teaching.berkeley.edu/resources/design/syllabus
  4. UC Davis Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs Syllabus Suggestions. Retrieve on July 9th at https://ossja.ucdavis.edu/syllabus-suggestions
  5. UC Irvine syllabus template. Retrieve on July 10, 2021 at https://dtei.uci.edu/resources/
  6. UC Santa Cruz Designing Courses-Syllabi. Retrieve on July 9th at https://citl.ucsc.edu/teaching-resources/designing-courses-syllabi/

 

Required Syllabus Content

Once a course is established, the language instructors use to communicate with students about inclusivity, academic integrity, accessibility, campus resources, and expectations matters. The following list includes both suggested and requested statements that instructors can adapt or directly use in their syllabi. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement 

As mentioned above in the policy section, UC Merced has an official Diversity Statement that can be used in a course syllabus. If you would like to construct your own. Here are some suggestions:

Example 1

Research reveals that a sense of belonging, personal value, and the ability to express one’s perspectives without the fear of being personally attacked or intimidated is critical to learning.  As such, we need to have some agreed-upon norms of behavior for how we interact with one another in- and out-of-class.  All students have a right to learn, and the instructor has a right to teach. Our agreements will help to maintain a productive learning environment that supports equity, diversity, and inclusion.

  • Be committed to UC Merced’s Principles of Community. These principles reflect our ongoing efforts to a) increase access and inclusion and b) create a community that nurtures lifelong learning and growth for all stakeholders. UC M Principles of Community
  • Help to establish and maintain a community whereby all members feel they belong and are valued. In every sense, diversity provides an opportunity for us to grow personally, intellectually, and professionally.
  • In all communications, exercise professionalism and cultural responsiveness.
  • Show respect for differing opinions and perspectives.  One of the purposes of higher education is to expand your mind and perspectives.
  • Be responsible for your decisions and actions. 
    • Attendance: Show up to class “prepared” to learn and help others learn.
    • Assignments: Do your best work and meet deadlines. (I understand that life does not always happen as expected, so if you have an unforeseen incident that prevents you from meeting a deadline, please email me at least 24 hours in advance of the due date to request an extension).
    • Communications/Discussions: Seek understanding and growth rather than an affirmation of your existing beliefs. Do your part to extend conversations rather than shut them down. We support open dialogue and diversity of thought when we ask for clarity, more information, and considerations of alternative points of view.  Respectful and supportive responses begin with:
      • Can you tell me more about…?
      • Please clarify what you mean by…
      • Have you considered….?
      • Is it also possible that…?

Example 2

We faculty and TA’s of [insert course], recognize that our individual differences can deepen our understanding of one another and the world around us, rather than divide us. In this class, we will work together to develop a learning community that is inclusive and respectful. Our diversity may be reflected by differences in race, ethnicities, nationalities, culture, age, religion, genders and gender identities, disabilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, political affiliation, and myriad other social identities and life experiences. The goal of inclusiveness, in a diverse community, encourages and appreciates expressions of different ideas, opinions, and beliefs, so that respectful conversations and interactions that could potentially be divisive turn instead into opportunities for intellectual and personal enrichment and growth.

A dedication to inclusiveness requires respecting what others say, their right to say it, and the thoughtful consideration of others' communication. Both speaking up and listening are valuable tools for furthering the thoughtful, enlightening dialogue. Respecting one another's individual differences is critical in transforming a collection of diverse individuals into an inclusive, collaborative, and excellent learning community. Our core commitment shapes our core expectations for behavior inside and outside of the classroom.  If at any point you feel your differences may in some way isolate you from our class community or if you have a need for any specific accommodations, please speak with us about your concerns and what we can do together to help you become an active and engaged member of our learning community. (We thank Marcos García-Ojeda (SNS) for this example)

Academic Integrity

Statement to be included in the course syllabus:

Academic honesty is taken very seriously at UC Merced. The Academic Honesty Policy and the Code of Student Conduct emphasize that students, faculty, and administration all share responsibility for maintaining a fair and honest academic environment. UC Merced is creating a strong tradition of upholding the student academic honesty policy and addressing suspected violations through the Report Form for Academic Misconduct and when appropriate the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (OSRR). Faculty and students both express confidence in the current process, which resolves almost all cases through informal meetings with students rather than formal hearings and emphasizes education in the discipline process. Faculty and OSRR strive to hold students accountable for violations but gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

Student Accessibility

Student Accessibility Services staff suggest the following statement to be included in the course syllabus:

If you anticipate or experience barriers due to pregnancy, temporary medical condition, or injury, please feel welcome to contact me so we can discuss options. You are encouraged to contact the Dean of Students for support and resources at (209) 228-3633 or https://studentaffairs.ucmerced.edu/dean-students.

University of California, Merced is committed to creating learning environments that are accessible to all. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on a disability, please feel welcome to contact me privately so we can discuss options. In addition, please contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at (209) 228-6996 or access@ucmerced.edu as soon as possible to explore reasonable accommodations. All accommodations must have prior approval from Student Accessibility Services on the basis of appropriate documentation.

Classroom and Communication Etiquette

The tone of the classroom has a significant impact on the educational environment. These days, the pervasive use of devices such as cell phones and the fact that some students may be unaware of University behavioral standards or the impact of their actions on others can lead to repeated distractions and interruptions. University of California Standards of Conduct for Students provides that students may be disciplined for “disruption or obstruction” of teaching or other University functions, and for failure to identify themselves or comply with the directions of University officials, as well as other violations of conduct standards (for more information see the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities http://osrr.ucmerced.edu).

Some things to consider including on your syllabus:

  • Policy on scheduling conflicts or make-ups
  • Entering and exiting class
  • Noise and Community Courtesy
  • Devices and their appropriate use
  • Email and correspondence etiquette (e.g., tone, format, response time, etc.)
  • Participation and working with others
  • See more details and suggestions from the UC Merced Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities

Plagiarism and Code of Conduct 

From the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities:

UC Merced's disciplinary procedures are intended to promote reasoned, fair and impartial consideration of suspected student misconduct, with respect for the rights and interests of all concerned, the accused student, the reporting party, and the university. The discipline process itself is a meaningful educational experience, students learn from admitting their errors and accepting the consequences of their actions. Student discipline is a shared responsibility that is integral to the university's mission and helps to fulfill the aspirations of our academic community.

Possible statements to include on your syllabus:

Any time you use the research, ideas, images, analysis, language, etc. produced by another, you must cite that individual (give them credit). If you use the words of another author verbatim (word-for-word), you must indicate that by putting the words in quotation marks and noting the source. Use proper citations to avoid plagiarism

As a student at UC Merced, you are expected to know when and how to cite and paraphrase correctly. If you do not, ask me or your TA for help. Submitting work that contains work "borrowed" from others and not properly cited is called "plagiarism" and is a violation of our Code of Academic Conduct.

Some things to consider including on your syllabus:

  • Explicitly state your rules regarding the use and citation of Internet sources. Roughly half of all new plagiarism cases involve the Internet.
  • Using examples, distinguish clearly between authorized collaboration and unauthorized collaboration both in and out of class.
  • Attach copies of the UC Merced Code of Student Conduct.
  • Inform students that Academic Senate policy requires instructors to complete a Faculty Report Form for Academically Misconduct, meet with the student, and submit the form to the Dean of their school and Student Conduct.

 

Decolonizing the Curriculum

Are our curriculum and syllabus language welcoming diversity of thought and validating multiple perspectives or is it by nature exclusionary? We serve a diverse group of students and future scholars.  In these times of social and political unrest, it behooves us to examine our curriculum (i.e., What is common knowledge in the discipline and why is it common while other knowledge is less so or even denied?), as well as the language used in our syllabi. This is the work necessary to begin the process of decolonizing our curriculum.

 

It all starts with the syllabus. 

Need some inspiration to get started? Read Professor Chanelle Wilson's process of revising and decolonizing their syllabus.

Reconstruct your syllabus with these ideas in mind 

  • Introduce who you are and your background. It matters that students see you for you. 
  • Create community norms with your students and include language that addresses intolerance of microaggressions and racists remarks, actions, and behaviors. 
  • Build flexibility into your communication methods, assessment, and grading. Allow room for mistakes and growth. 
  • Make materials, examples, and assignments inclusive to race, socio-economic standing, gender, sexuality, disability, immigration status, English language learner, and first-generation students.
  • Offer positive affirmations and supportive language throughout your Canvas and communications with students (asset vs. deficit thinking). 
  • Include information about affordable housing, psychological services, food security, academic support, etc. 

Decolonizing involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships, and working to challenge those systems.  It is not 'integration' or simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-white cultures. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems.  It's a culture shift to think more widely about why common knowledge is what it is, and in so doing adjusting cultural perceptions and power relations in real and significant ways" (Keele Decolonizing the Curriculum Network, 2020).

Supporting Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) (adapted from (Ahadi & Guerrero 2020)

Validation: 

  • Open and direct, 1-on-1 communication and check-in on students when they do not show up, ask TAs do to the same in large classes. 
  • Validate students in and out of the classroom (Rendon, 1994)
  • Create opportunities to discuss ongoing marginalization, oppression, and barriers. 

Engagement

  • Engage students emotionally, behaviorally, and cognitively. 
  • Include examples BIPOC students can relate to. 
  • For example:

In mathematics, to remedy the whitewashing of BIPOC contributions, faculty need to expose students to their mathematical cultural heritage. This goal can be achieved by showcasing the non-European roots of mathematics (Joseph, 2010), using “the mathematics which is practiced among identifiable cultural groups” (Powell and Frankenstein, 1997, p.7) and language in decolonizing mathematics (Iseke-Barnes, 2000). As a result, when student engagement increases, a greater sense of belonging will take place as well." (Ahadi & Guerrero 2020)

Sense of belonging

  • Achieved through students feeling supported, respected, and accepted by instructors and peers.
  • Sense of belonging leads to "optimal functioning" (Strayhorn 2018).
  • Learn student names and gender pronouns.
  • Be sensitive to student needs and stay positive. 

References

  1. Ahadi, H. S., Guerrero, L. S. (2020) "Decolonizing Your Syllabus, an Anti-Racist Guide for Your College" Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. URL 
  2. Rendon, L. (1994) “Validating Culturally Diverse Students: Toward a New Model of Learning and Student Development.” Innovative Higher Education 19.1: 33-51.
  3. Strayhorn, T. (2018) College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students. ISBN 9781138238558

 

Campus Resources and Student Services

UC Merced has myriad services focused on student success. Offering these services on your syllabus or linking them through your CatCourses page is a great way to make sure students know where to go in times of need. 

Help students become aware of UC Merced's plethora of Tutoring Services by including this link in your syllabi.