Skip to content

Assessing course syllabi with a rubric: Strategies for inclusive teaching

Zoom image panels of the project collaborators.Authors:

  • Rachel Song, Research Assistant, Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Laila Volpe, Research Assistant, Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Lindsey Green, Teaching Assistant, Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Carly Gray, Teaching Assistant, Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • Caitlin Stavish, Teaching Assistant, Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle campus
  • MJ Schneider, Research Assistant, Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle campus

Project Description

Underrepresented students in academic environments experience discrimination, indirect signals of exclusion, and presumptions about insufficient ability, which can impact their performance and engagement in research and classes, as well as their mental and physical health. Intentional environments that cue diversity and inclusion can signal belonging and increase student interest and success in these environments. This project aims to increase student belonging and reduce barriers to success for underrepresented students by improving one of the most important documents students encounter in a course – the course syllabus. As a graduate student committee, we created a standardized syllabus rubric to support faculty in strengthening the inclusivity of their course syllabi, and by extension, the course itself. Using the rubric, we provide qualitative and quantitative feedback on course content, course climate, and course structure for instructors who opt-in to having their syllabus reviewed.

Project Question

Our project aims to support instructors through an intervention that evaluates course content (e.g., diversity of course materials), course climate (e.g., encouragement of diverse viewpoints), and course structure (e.g., transparent and equitable grading policies) through syllabi reviews to strengthen inclusive teaching practices in the classroom.


We review syllabi for all courses offered in the psychology department. We have created two versions of a standardized syllabus review rubric: one for undergraduate courses and another for graduate courses. We have reviewed syllabi from 30 courses thus far, ranging from large lecture-style undergraduate courses (e.g., PSYCH101: Intro to Psychology) to smaller, seminar-style courses at the graduate level (e.g., PSYCH514: Core Concepts in Cognitive and Linguistic Psychology).


Guided by best practices in inclusive teaching and syllabus rubrics from other institutions, we created a rubric to assess course climate, structure, and content from course syllabi. Our group first created a rubric to evaluate graduate course syllabi. We held three focus groups with undergraduate students to design an undergraduate syllabus rubric. As of Winter 2024, our group has evaluated 30 unique syllabi from 24 instructors in the Department of Psychology. Two graduate students independently review each syllabus using the rubric, then average their scores and synthesize their qualitative feedback. In Summer 2023, we surveyed department instructors to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement of the syllabus review process.


We measure the impact of our work through feedback from instructors. While we do not have access to data on student achievement directly, we hope to expand the scope of our assessments in the future. We believe that the unique, student-led structure of our project also provides a much needed perspective on the challenges faced in academic environments.

Feedback from instructors has been overwhelmingly positive. After soliciting feedback from instructors, all respondents (n=7) said they made changes to their syllabi and all respondents agreed that the syllabi review process was helpful, relevant, and easy to implement. For example, one responder reported, “Having additional, equity-focused eyes on my syllabus was so helpful. My reviewers were able to identify strengths as well as areas for improvement. Their suggestions ranged from immediately implementable to great considerations for larger revisions in future quarters.” Another instructor shared, “There were suggestions that were both easy to implement and made good sense to me (e.g., providing instructor pronouns).” Of those who completed the survey, 6 out of 7 agreed it improved the overall quality of the syllabus, 4 out of 7 agreed the accessibility of their course improved, and 6 out of 7 agreed it led to a more inclusive course climate.


The course syllabus is the first opportunity for instructors to connect with students. Decisions made by the instructor in the syllabus can implicitly communicate to students whether they will be supported, whether their identities will be respected, and whether the professor values their input and contributions. The syllabus also communicates critical course policies and expectations that can make the path to success clear and accessible for all students.

Across all disciplines, regularly evaluating syllabi and identifying improvements (e.g., inclusion of minoritized authors) ensures that courses are welcoming and relevant for a diverse array of students. This project identifies syllabus review criteria and best practices that faculty members have found helpful, including faculty who already prioritize DEI in their courses, facilitating introspection in their own courses. Finally, this project highlights the utility and importance of student-led initiatives.

Additional Insights

We are happy to share our syllabus rubric and instructor resource document with other instructors and hear feedback from other departments that have implemented similar initiatives. Contact uw.psych.dsc.chips <at> for more information.

Back to the Showcase