A syllabus sets the stage for course development and management. The construction of a well-defined syllabus makes the development and management of an online or on-campus course much easier.
Both face-to-face and online syllabi should include instructor information, course description, course objectives (or course outcomes), course methodology, grading criteria, grade computation and course policies. In addition, the syllabi for both face-to-face and online versions of the same class should provide identical course descriptions and course objectives, because most accrediting bodies (especially regional ones) require that all sections of a course, regardless of the delivery method, assess students equally. The most significant differences between the two types of syllabi typically appear in the course methodology, grading criteria, and course policies.
Regardless of whether you teach an online class or a face-to-face class, you should make your contact information readily available on your syllabus. All syllabi should include the instructor’s name, e-mail address, phone number, and office hours. The relevance of other contact information depends on the type of class. For example, if you teach a face-to-face course, you should include your office location; if you teach an online course, you should tell students how they can reach you. In a face-to-face course, you generally can expect that students will discuss matters with you before class, after class, or at your office during office hours. In an online course, however, synchronous sessions with students do not provide sufficient privacy for personal student discussions before or after the session. Online students also may not live close enough to walk or drive to your office or be available to meet during your traditional daytime office hours. For an online course, therefore, you must change how and when you are available.
A course description is a brief summary statement or paragraph about the nature of a course. Well-written course descriptions use active voice, whole sentences, and direct statements. To ensure consistency across sections and instructors, all instructors should take course descriptions directly from their institution’s catalog.
Course Objectives (Course Outcomes)
Course objectives, or outcomes, detail the specific goals of the course as they relate to student performance. Strong course objectives are specific, measurable, clear, and related. To be specific, objectives must identify the information students will learn in the class. To be measurable, objectives must identify the performance that students must demonstrate for mastery. To be clear, objectives must articulate the sum of knowledge addressed in the course. Finally, to be related, objectives must logically coexist, building on one another and/or complementing each other.
Course methodology refers to how the class approaches student learning. Many online courses feature a variety of learning methods, including readings, case studies, tests, quizzes, and discussions. Describing the course methodology gives students some expectation of the materials they will use to learn in the class. It also gives students the information they need to determine how well-suited they are for the course.
Many students focus their attention on the section of the syllabus that lists the grading criteria. Adult learners especially value having clear guidelines they can follow as they complete their class work. Therefore, you should spend time writing unambiguous grading criteria for each method you will use to grade students.
The grade computation section of the syllabus is the second section to which students give considerable attention. You should specify the value of each graded item in the course so that students know how to weight their focus in the class.
Many institutions use standardized syllabi with predefined course policies; however, instructors often must rewrite course policies designed for face-to-face courses to make them relevant for online courses. For example, attendance policies that discuss tardiness and use of cell phones do not apply to most online courses.
Students must access the online course regularly to ensure that they receive the most up-to-date announcements. The learning management system reports each participant’s access times so that instructors can track student attendance. Students who access the course only one or two times per week may receive less consideration if they request extensions or make-up exams. It is in the best interest of each student to log in daily and actively participate in the course.
Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction. Atlanta, GA: Center for Effective Performance.