The Course Syllabus

The course syllabus has historically been viewed as a somewhat tentative plan that a professor provides students to help them better understand the mission and goals of a particular course. In recent years however, an increasingly consumer-oriented and litigious society has markedly influenced the evolution of a course syllabus into nothing less than a binding contract between professor and student.

Since your major goal is to facilitate student mastery of your course material, the syllabus should eliminate all barriers to learning, by anticipating nearly any reasonable question that a student might develop about the course. Especially important are those questions that occur as the course approaches its conclusion and students become increasingly conscious of their final grade. These include weights of graded assignments and penalties for such behavior as faulty attendance and late submission of assignments. Penalties imposed on students that are not clearly stated in the syllabus, e.g. lowering a grade for inappropriate attendance, will generally not be defended by instructional leaders.

Because today's students often have many demands on their time, it is also especially critical that your syllabus includes a schedule that includes due dates of assignments and examinations. While your heading might include "tentative," expect to change dates only if extremely severe weather or similar major unanticipated event causes cancellation of one or more class meetings. Before distributing a final version of your syllabus, invest the time to have your instructional leader or mentor to review it, ensuring it is not only complete from an instructional perspective, but also properly addresses any departmental or institutional perspectives of which you might not otherwise be aware.

Lastly, your course syllabus should recognize its increasingly critical marketing role. With an increasingly visually conditioned student clientele, judgments of a professor's competence are made very quickly from the visual cues communicated. Unappealing layout and font selection, as well as misspelling and other typographical errors, can discount the students' perceptions of the course and your teaching competence. Therefore, be sure to invest a few moments in having a skilled reader review your final draft before duplication.

A well developed and visually appealing course syllabus are critical to the success of your course. For additional information on developing and effective course syllabus, read Chapter 5 of The Adjunct Professor's Guide to Success available below, or other contemporary information on this critical issue.

Shop on line at or Barnes & Noble to get your copy of Dr. Lyons' book, The Adjunct Professor's Guide to Success: Surviving and Thriving in the College Classroom.

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