A well-designed, complete, and engaging syllabus is key for a successful course. The syllabus can act as both a contract with students and as a roadmap for what students should know, value, and be able to do by the end of the course.
The evidence-based resources below are intended to help you get started creating and revising your syllabus.
Additionally, the Koehler Center periodically offers workshops on Smart Syllabus Design. View our Events page for a list of currently scheduled workshops.
*Visit the section “Step 1: Build” for syllabus templates, course disclosures, the change document, and policy updates.
Design your Syllabus
Step 1: Build
The syllabus templates are available to assist you in crafting your own syllabus. These templates have been available to the TCU community since 2007 with direction from the Provost. The two versions differ slightly depending on how the course is offered (Face-to-Face or Online). Each syllabus template has been built and checked to meet accessibility guidelines. They are also regularly updated to include the latest university policies.
Current Templates for Spring 2022: Version 6 (11/21)
Option 1: If you have a new syllabus that has not used the template before, or if you have a syllabus with a significantly older version number, download the template and insert your own content.
Option 2: If you have a syllabus with a relatively recent version number (i.e. Version 6), save time by reviewing the Syllabus-Change-Document to update or copy just the new things you need.
Native American Land Acknowledgement
You can find and add the latest version of TCU’s Native American Land Acknowledgement statement.
Inclement Weather Guidelines from the Provost Office
We recommend that instructors include the statement below to address students’ expectations in advance of inclement weather.
When the university announces an official campus closure, all academic instruction and activities, online or in-person, on or off campus, will cease until the university officially reopens. Since there is no guarantee of the ability to communicate or access academic resources during a closing, students will not be expected to attend class online, submit assignments, take exams, or meet any scheduled deadlines during the closure. When classes resume, faculty will inform students of adjusted course expectations and deadlines to make sure course learning objectives are met. Any make-up time will take place during the scheduled class time or through out-of-class activities, which could include asynchronous lectures.
For additional information regarding current policies and procedures, visit the Protect the Purple resource page and the Provost’s FAQ’s for Faculty. If you have a question that is not addressed by the FAQs, email email@example.com.
Additional Policies & Documentation
Visit the New to TCU Teaching Resources created for all who teach, especially those who are new to TCU. Here you will find a wealth of information about additional policies (FERPA, attendance expectations, Title IX, etc.) and documentation that may be helpful as you build your syllabus, such as CORE and WEM designations and guidelines, unsatisfactory grades information, Don’t Cancel that Class workshops, and links to the Faculty/Staff Handbook and Part-time (Adjunct) Faculty Resource Manual.
Step 2: Review and Revise
Utilize the Syllabus Rubric
Syllabi are living documents that evolve over semesters and years of use. As you review and revise your syllabus, use the Syllabus Rubric as a generative, diagnostic tool—to look at content, policies, structure, accessibility, and tone—to find areas for development or improvement.
Check Department Standards
A department may have specific standards or norms about policies or expectations, such as the amount of homework given for different course levels, if late work is accepted, if there is a uniform unexcused absence penalty, what the average grading turnaround time is, or what percentage of student work should be graded by the official drop date. Some of these may be official departmental policies, others might be more like guidelines or suggestions. You should check with your department to align your syllabus with those standards.
Don’t forget to compare your course schedule with the Academic Calendar for holidays and special days when your class might be cancelled, such as convocation, breaks, and holidays. Also look up your Final Exam dates and times.
Review for Accessibility
As with all course content, it is important to ensure that your syllabus is accessible. As you add your content to the syllabus template, be sure to consider the following:
- text, use properly formatted headings to build hierarchy and structure into the page, and maintain a proper reading order.
- images, add alternative text descriptions that provide information to the reader about the content and function of the images.
- lists or tables, format lists as lists (using the bullet or numbered list button), and create tables with column and/or row headers.
- links, should have meaningful link text that indicates the link’s destination.
- colors, use sufficient color contrast, and do not use color alone to convey meaning.
- required software, web applications, or links to external resources, (such as online materials provided by publishers, software required for class, and links to websites) should also be accessible. If they are not accessible, an accessible alternative will need to be provided that allows for an equally effective learning experience. Ask the vendor/publisher these questions before adopting their tools and materials.
Once you have finished adding content to your syllabus, consider the following to ensure your syllabus is accessible.
- For Word documents, view the Microsoft Word Document Accessibility guide and run the Accessibility Checker. Fix any identified errors.
- For a PDF, view the PDF Accessibility guide, perform an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) check, and run the Accessibility Checker. Fix any identified errors.
- If using the HTML Editor in TCU Online, view the TCU Online Accessibility guide and run the Accessibility Checker. Fix any identified errors.
View the Creating Accessible Course Content resources for more tutorials and tips on meeting accessibility guidelines in your syllabus and course content.
Request a Syllabus Consultation
The Koehler Center offers syllabus consultations throughout the year. Visit our One-to-One Consultation page to request one. Due to the heavy volume of requests before the semester starts, we encourage you to submit requests early.
Step 3: Deliver
Offer an Accessible Format
As with all course content, it is important to provide the syllabus in an accessible digital format. Providing students with only a paper copy does not meet accessibility guidelines. To provide an accessible digital format, consider uploading the Word or PDF document to TCU Online, or creating your syllabus using the HTML Editor in TCU Online.
Encourage Engagement with the Syllabus
Looking for a way to motivate students to read the syllabus?
In Class: Create an active, engaging, student-centered experience that demonstrates how you believe learning happens and helps build classroom community from the first day.
- Information Search: Divide students into groups and give each group a different question, assignment, or policy they have to teach their peers about based upon the information in the syllabus. After a short planning time, each group presents about their question, assignment, or policy. Presentations can be informal and may or may not include visual aids. This can also be done with content or information from TCU Online.
- Syllabus Stations: Give each student a copy of the syllabus and divide them into small groups. In groups, the students visit various syllabus stations around the room. Each station has a commonly asked question about a policy, assignment, or element in the syllabus. Groups have to find answers to each question because at the end of the period each group will have to answer a question for the class. This activity starts training students to be responsible for their learning by asking them to look for the answers in the syllabus. Learn how to set up and lead this activity, as well as a few helpful tips.
- Team-based Game: Encourage students to meet one another and start building classroom community by creating a team-based game about your syllabus and policies. Divide students into small teams and have them compete to answer questions about the syllabus based on speed and accuracy covering the content you usually say or read to them.
- Option 1) It could be done through a live, question-by-question format where you call out the question and teams have a limited amount of time to find the correct answer and buzz in.
- Option 2) It could be a multiple-question survey format they have to complete together and turn in at the front to you, but when they do, you’ll ask each individual team member a random question from the survey, so they each have to be able to answer all of the questions.
Out of Class
Out of Class: Require students to engage with the syllabus and complete the task outside of class using one of the activities below. You can use the first-day class time to create interest in your course through big-picture questions, real-world problems, or future challenges the course will grapple with or address.
- Netiquette Email: Teach students about email netiquette and syllabus policies by having them practice emailing you answers to questions you have posed about the syllabus. This can also provide you with a simple writing sample. Read about this syllabus and netiquette technique in action. This could also be paired with the Pre-assessment Writing option.
- Pre-assessment Writing: Collect a formal or informal writing sample by asking students to read the syllabus on their own and write about how the upcoming course outcomes and assignments connect to their previous experiences, current interests, or future goals. This type of pre-assessment writing can help students set personal goals, and reflect about their learning metacognitively later in the semester. It can also help find unexpected ways to create student engagement through the other interests and experiences students identify.
- Scavenger Hunt: Help students learn the organization of your course content by creating a TCU Online scavenger hunt that incorporates syllabus components and interesting hidden messages, images, questions, or surprises. For example, have students identify which chemistry pun or cartoon will best help them remember the Heavy Metals in week 3’s content. Or find in Unit 2 which musician’s songs can help students remember different literary devices.
- Secret Incentives: Require students to read the syllabus for homework. Before giving students the syllabus, include a sentence somewhere in it directing students to email you that they have read and understood the policies or assignments and will not tell peers about the secret sentence. To encourage students to keep the secret, include a stipulation that if less than half the class emails about the secret, the students who do email get two bonus points instead of one. Other instructors have included secret tasks or challenges in the syllabus that must be completed in the few weeks of class for a bonus point or two.
- Syllabus Quiz: Write a syllabus quiz that covers the main content areas you might normally read to students on the first day. Have the students read and complete the syllabus quiz on their own during the first week. Consider having an open-ended question that allows them to ask you any questions they might still have, and let students know where you will post answers to these questions or when you will anonymously address them in class.
Doolittle, P. E., & Siudzinski, R. A. (2010). Recommended syllabus components: What do higher education faculty include in their syllabi? Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 21(3), 29–61.
Eberly, M. B., Newton, S. E., & Wiggins, R. A. (2001). The syllabus as a tool for student-centered learning. The Journal of General Education, 50(1), 56–74.
Garavalia, L. S., Hummel, J. H., Wiley, L. P., & Huitt, W. G. (1999). Constructing the course syllabus: Faculty and student perceptions of important syllabus components. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 10(1), 5– 21.
Matejka, K., & Kurke, L. B. (1994). Designing a great syllabus. College Teaching, 4(3), 115–117.
O’Brien, J. G., Millis, B. J., & Cohen, M. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Parkes, J., & Harris, M. B. (2002). The purposes of a syllabus. College Teaching, 50(2), 55–61.