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.
Here are two ways to get started creating and revising your syllabus:
- Attend a Smart Syllabus Design Workshop in which you will
- discuss elements of course design, including well-crafted grading, attendance, technology, and participation policies,
- examine sample syllabi and policies from fellow faculty at TCU,
- use a syllabus rubric to analyze and revise a current syllabus, and
- schedule a one-to-one follow-up consultation with a Koehler Center faculty developer for additional revision support.
- Begin working on your own using the resources and guides below.
Step 1: Build
To assist you in crafting your syllabus, we have syllabus templates available that differ slightly depending on how the course is offered. These templates have been available to the TCU community since 2007 with direction from the Provost. The templates are designed with the current required policies that must be included in each TCU syllabus, and are updated every summer to reflect changes in policy language and best practices. Please review the templates each academic year and ensure that your syllabus includes the latest policies.
Current Templates – Version 4 (11/18)
As with all course content, your syllabus must be accessible. Each syllabus template has been built and checked to meet accessibility guidelines. If you add more content to the syllabus template, be sure to consider the following.
If there is/are:
- text, use properly formatted headings to build hierarchy and structure for the page, and maintain a proper reading order.
- images, add alternative text descriptions that provide information to the user 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) must be accessible. If they are not accessible, you as the instructor will need to provide an accessible, equally effective learning experience option for each inaccessible one. Ask the vendor/publisher these questions before adopting their tools and materials.
View the Accessibility for Course Content resources for tutorials and tips on how to meet these accessibility guidelines in your syllabus, and to learn more about creating accessible course content.
Policies & Documentation
Visit the New to TCU Teaching Resources that was created for all who teach, especially those who are new to TCU. Here you will find a wealth of information about 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 this Syllabus Rubric as a diagnostic tool—to look at content, policies, structure, accessibility, and tone—to find areas for development or improvement. If you use the current version of our Syllabus Templates, not only will you have the latest policies, you will also score well on the Syllabus Rubric. Current Syllabus Rubric is Version 4 (7.18).
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.
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.
Request a Syllabus Consultation
The Koehler Center offers free syllabus consultations throughout the year. Common topics include outcomes training, assignment development, policy review, language use, and more. 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
In order to provide students with an accessible syllabus, you must also consider how it is delivered to them. As with all course content, the syllabus should be provided in an accessible digital format. Providing students with only a paper copy does not meet accessibility requirements. To provide an accessible digital format, consider the following:
- If the syllabus is offered using the HTML Editor in TCU Online, view the TCU Online Accessibility guide and run the Accessibility Checker. Fix any identified errors.
- If the syllabus is delivered electronically as a Word document, view the Microsoft Word Document Accessibility guide and run the Accessibility Checker. Fix any identified errors.
- If the syllabus is delivered electronically in a PDF, view the PDF Accessibility guide, perform an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) check, and run the Accessibility Checker. Fix any identified errors.
Encourage Students to Engage
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: 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.