Teaching Seminar
Dr. Lauren Scharff

Note: these are points that I have picked up along the way, and often obviously reflect my opinion rather than "hard and fast" rules.

Issues to Consider When Writing a Syllabus:

What are the Basic Components of a Syllabus?

  • Name of the course
  • Your name
  • The teaching assistant
  • Offices (locations)
  • Office Hours
  • The Text
  • Prerequisites
  • Schedule of exams
  • Basis for grades
  • Other Things You Might Not Have Considered:

  • General Purpose of course
  • Phone Numbers, email address
  • Type of tests
  • Materials for test (scan tron sheets, blue books, etc.)
  • Chapters, etc. covered on tests
  • Make-up Policies!
  • Attendance Policy details (what if someone is late, or has an excuse, etc.)
  • Discussion of issues regarding cheating, plagiarism, etc.
  • Location of class resources
  • When Deciding on the Above Syllabus Issues, There are Underlying Issues Which Will (Should) Be Considered:

    I. Fairness

    This is a biggie and should be reflected in many of the points covered on the syllabus. It will be very important to think several things through before the first day of class (ie. when you are writing the syllabus) so that you can handle events as they arrive during the semester. Some specific points:

  • Fairness in course grades: This raises issues for grade assignment within your class and across classes (both your own, if you're teaching more than one section, and between yours and another instructor's class - some classes may be easier than others).
  • Curving grades: should you curve? It may make students more competitive if they know that you will curve to achieve some specific distribution of grades. If you do have a very skewed distribution, then you may need to adjust it. Curving can be done on a "wait and see" basis.
  • If you decide to make a change in grading requirements, they must only benefit the students. It is not fair if they signed up and began a course with one set of assumptions and then you change it and make it harder.
  • The important thing will be to clearly state the policy on the syllabus and stick to it. If you give any one student an opportunity to do extra credit, that same opportunity should be made available to all the students.
  • Do not be swayed by good sob stories for make-ups or extra credit. However, this does not mean that you have to be totally inflexible. Work with the student, but make sure you have good, documentable logic for your choices. This way you can back up your decisions if anyone calls you on it. (Also, if someone is giving you alot of pressure to give them a make-up, extra credit etc. then you can say that giving them a special opportunity is against administrative policy, and that you could wind up in serious trouble if you do something that is not fair to all students - this will usually make them leave you alone, although they may still be unhappy about the issue.)
  • Failure to finish exams or papers: When students don't finish exams you shouldn't give them more time. If you give some students extra time it is unfair to those students who finished in the allotted time. The people who finished on time might have done better if they had been given extra time too. They followed the rules. You must give them the same chance for success. This can be an important learning experience for some students - in the "real" world, they shouldn't count on extra time compared to competitors.
  • II. Length

  • how long should a syllabus be?
  • of course, the more explicit you are to start with, the better the students will know what you expect, and the fewer problems you will have dealing with ambiguous situations.
  • on the other hand, my opinion is that syllabi CAN be made too long, and that students won't read/retain all of it if there is too much information on it. (they'll put it in their folders to "read later".)
  • how to keep it short: give handouts later in semester (when relevant) that contain the details of assignments that are Briefly Mentioned in the syllabus; refer students to student handbooks (which contain information and policies on cheating, plagiarism, etc.)
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