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Creating your syllabus

The syllabus provides the instructor and students with a common reference point that sets the stage for learning throughout the course. Make sure that your students have easy access to the course syllabus by handing out hard copies on the first day of class and (if applicable) posting a digital copy on the course website.

UW syllabus guidelines and resources

Many policies and recommended practices at the UW are enacted at the school or departmental level, so be sure to connect with your departmental supervisor about the department’s expectations regarding syllabi. The university also has institution-wide policies and guidelines that you’ll want to explore as you build your syllabus.

Common components included in a syllabus

The form and content of a syllabus vary widely by discipline, department, course and instructor. However, there are common components that most successful syllabi contain. These components communicate to your students an accurate description of the course including the topics that will be covered; assignments and assessments students will be responsible for; and a clear source for policies and expectations.

Course description

  • Course content: What is the basic content of the course and what makes it important or interesting?  How does the course fit into the context of the discipline?
  • Learning objectives: What should students be able to do by the end of the course?  Objectives are most helpful when they are expressed in terms of knowledge and skills that can be readily identified and assessed.  For example, the ability to recognize, differentiate, apply or produce is much more readily identifiable than the ability to appreciate or understand.
  • Characteristics of class meetings:  What types of activities should students be prepared for?  Discussion?  Lecture?  Small groups?  Student presentations?
  • Logistics:  What are the instructor’s and TAs’ names?  How can they be contacted?  How are course materials obtained?  When and where does the class meet?

Course topics and assignments

  • Schedule of topics and readings: What will the main topics of the course be and when will they be addressed?  What will students need to do to prepare for each class?  Most instructors include a weekly or daily schedule of topics they intend to address, along with a list of assigned readings and other course materials.
  • Assignments, projects and exams: How will students demonstrate their learning?  Include learning goals, estimated scope or length, assessment criteria and dates.  Instructors typically include a breakdown, in point values or percentages, of how much each assignment or test contributes to a student’s final grade.

Course policies and values

What values will shape your teaching in the course and what policies will guide you?  Policies and values that you might want to communicate through your syllabus include:

  • Inclusiveness:  How can your syllabus help you create an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes all students?  Some instructors include statements inviting participation from all students, honoring student diversity and differing points of view, or inviting requests for disability accommodations.
  • Integrity:  What are policies and procedures regarding academic integrity and misconduct in relation to materials and assignment for this course?  For example, considering the types of work you are asking students to do, what do you want to communicate about working with data?  representing original sources? accountability for contributions to group projects?
  • Responsibility:  What do students need to know about your expectations regarding assignments, attendance, online participation or classroom interactions?  Other possibilities include policies regarding late work, make-up exams and preparation for class participation.
  • Expectations for success:   How can students learn most successfully in your course?  In your syllabus, you can express confidence that all students are capable of doing well and you can suggest strategies for success.  For example, what strategies for learning are particularly important for this material?  What resources — such as study centers, web tutorials or writing centers — are available to help students succeed in your course?
  • Expectations regarding student use of artificial intelligence: Stating your expectations in the syllabus about whether and/or how students may use AI-based tools to complete assignments is important because instructor expectations may differ from course to course. Here are some sample syllabus statements you can use or adapt to help articulate your expectations for student use of AI in your course.

Information for Teaching Assistants

Teaching assistant responsibilities regarding course design will vary. However, it is always a good idea to think about your teaching and learning goals. Plan ahead by asking yourself:

  • What do I want students to learn?
  • What challenges to learning are students likely to face?
  • How can I help students meet those challenges?
  • How will I be able to tell what they have learned?

If you are teaching a quiz section or lab, you may not be involved in the development of the course syllabus. However, your students will appreciate receiving a syllabus providing information regarding the section or lab policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as information about your office location and hours, and how to contact you by email. Make sure to discuss the information you provide in your quiz section syllabus with the lead instructor or graduate program advisor before distributing it to students.