The course syllabus is one of the most important elements of the online classroom. In addition to being a contract between you and your students, it outlines course elements and policies and is the first impression students will have of your course. Unlike in a face-to-face classroom, however, you don’t hand out your syllabus on the first day of class and immediately field questions about it. Instead, students download it when they log in and read it independently, meaning that it’s critical that it contains all the information it needs to.
To help ensure that your syllabus is well received and reflective of your course quality, consider the checklist below. Depending on your course, institution, or discipline, you might not need to include all of these items.
- Course Information: Course title, course code, department name, number of credit hours, term information, document creation date, and document revision date
- Course Description: Institution’s course description, including prerequisite courses
- Course Objectives: What students should master by the end of the course
- Instructor Information: Instructor name and credentials, contact information, preferred contact method, availability times (including time zones), and office hours
- Course Materials: Required instructional materials (including ISBNs, if applicable), supplemental readings, and technical requirements
- Support Services: Technical support contact information (both e-mail and phone, if applicable) and academic support
- Grading Policy: Grading criteria and components of total grade; list of all quizzes, exams, graded assignments, and forms of class participation with grade percentages or points; criteria for passing grade; late assignment policy; makeup or extra credit policy
- Participation Expectations: Minimum number of posts per week in a discussion; standards for quality posts; expectations for attending synchronous classes or completing assignments and quizzes
- Course Schedule: Week-by-week outline of topics, assignments, readings, quizzes, activities, and specific due dates
- Institutional Policies: Academic dishonesty, plagiarism, and accommodations for students who have special needs
- Learning Objectives: A list of your learning objectives, especially your macro-objectives (i.e., course-level objectives)
Although these suggestions provide your students with what they need to know, they’re not much help if you don’t format and organize your syllabus in a way that encourages student retention. Online syllabi should be clear and concise, not overly wordy or lengthy. To help break up content, try using headers to organize your syllabus in a hierarchical structure. In addition to providing an aesthetic benefit, headers help with navigation for students who might access your course using assistive technology.
Finally, one way to help ensure clarity and conciseness is to check to see if your institution has an online syllabus template. If so, that template will note critical institutional policies and procedures you should include in your online syllabus.
Regardless of what you choose to include in your online syllabus, it’s important that you do so with students in mind. Although some of these suggestions are required by law, others are for the overall betterment of the learning experience. By taking heed of these practices and employing them as needed, you will communicate expectations to students in a way that helps them succeed.