Nugget #10: Constructing an Effective Syllabus

Organize your course with an effective syllabus

Course syllabus serves three overarching functions including structural, motivational, and evidentiary. Research has shown it’s good to have a detailed syllabus to make explicit the expectations for both the students and the instructor. Using a warm tone is good to generate an engaging atmosphere. In order to serve all students well, describe the UDL practices including ways students can get accommodations, flexibility in the assessments and the availability of course support or university supports such as disability services.

  • To format, use a word processor that generates structured documents such as html with headings and lists for better access. 
  • For a long syllabus, use inline topic links in the beginning to help navigation to specific sections of the syllabus. 
  • When using a learning management system (LMS), like Cavnas, as a content platform, use multiple pages for various aspects of the syllabus. For example, make the schedule easy to navigate by designing it as part of the landing page of the course. 
  • Stay tuned for more calendar/scheduling tips next week!

Some fun facts

1) “Provide a course syllabus that clearly identifies all course requirements, course expectations and due dates” has been identified as the 1st strategy among 9 UDL approaches in the study by EnACT.

2) A university in the US would ask students to sign that they read the syllabus and agree to its terms.

3) Canvas has a syllabus menu item for setting up a course syllabus, but it has a short width for accessibility considerations.

Dig deeper

School Supports

Our university has a strong commitment to help instructors manage course policies, especially through syllabi. To take advantage of this, check out the Provost’s page on course policies or the Student Affairs syllabus statement recommendations. These are strong starting points on what to include in a syllabus to help students understand your policies and to access needed care.

Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES)

At DRES, you can find resources and guidelines for coordinating with disability services, including syllabus statements and course policy construction suggestions.

Counseling Center

Another key student resource to share through your syllabus is the Counseling Center. Mental health can be a difficult topic to approach, so a page with suggestions on referring students has been provided by the Student Counseling Center to help you navigate various situations relating to mental health concerns.

Research on Syllabus

Interested in doing more research on an effective syllabus? Check out these research resources:

  • Jeanne M. Slattery & Janet F. Carlson “Preparing an effective syllabus: current best practices” College Teaching 53:4, 159-164, 2005
  • Wagner, J. L., Smith, K. J., Johnson, C., Hilaire, M. L., & Medina, M. S. (2023). Best Practices in Syllabus Design. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 87(3), ajpe8995.

Example of syllabus and schedule

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group