In the School of Information Studies, we view the development of high quality course syllabi as an important element of our instructional strategy. Students often ask to see syllabi prior to registering for courses and new faculty members often use them as a model for their own syllabi. A good syllabus helps frame a course for students and explicitly outlines learning outcomes, instructional strategy, instructional policies and expectations, and assessment and grading. There are highly recommended and mandatory elements that should be included in all syllabi, see http://facultycenter.ischool.syr.edu/teaching_tech_resources/syllabi/templates-and-examples/ for the required template to follow. See below for rationale for some of these elements:
► Course Description
The description should capture the essence of the course’s content while also providing some insight into how the course will be conducted and also whether there are any prerequisite courses or skills required.
► Learning Outcomes
Learning outcomes are similar to learning objectives but they are focused on the measurable knowledge and skills a successful student will acquire after completing the course. Learning outcomes are generally prefaced by a phrase such as the following: “After completing this course, students will be able to…” Learning outcomes are associated with the course and not with a specific instructor. If you are not the professor of record for a course, your core learning outcomes should be consistent with those established by the professor of record. You have some flexibility to expand on the core learning objectives.
► Textbooks and Readings
Courses required for completion of a degree program often use a standardized textbook. If you require a textbook, you should make effective use of it. If you are ambiguous about how you will incorporate a required book into the class, some students will interpret that to mean that they do not really have to read the book or even purchase it. Although many students will purchase or rent their textbook online, wherever possible, undergraduate textbooks should be stocked at the SU Bookstore to make it easier for students who are on financial aid. You are free to include recommended or optional books or readings but it is unlikely that many students will acquire these books.
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► Course Policies
You should be explicit in addressing specific course policies. If attendance is required, you should note that in your policies. If you do not allow the use of laptops in class, you should note that as well. In defining your policies, avoid ambiguity wherever possible. If you plan to make important class announcements over e-mail, you should state your expectations here.
Although grading strategies are largely at the discretion of the instructor, you should be aware that grade inflation is a concern at SU as well as many other institutions. One recent study found that in their sample pool, the percentage of A’s in classes had increased 28 points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. An internal iSchool faculty survey conducted in early 2011 indicated that the average expectation amongst faculty members for grade distribution in undergraduate classes was as follows: A (24%); B (41%); C (22%); D (8%); F (5%). The average expected grade distribution for graduate classes was as follows: A (38%); B (48%); C (12%) and F (3%). Note: these distributions represent average expectations of our faculty and you should not view them as required distributions for your class. In order to avoid grade disputes, you should be as explicit as possible in your grading policies and you should apply them in a consistent manner. Try to employ a range of grading and assessment strategies that are appropriate for the expected learning outcomes.