Cup of colored pencils with a class syllabus in front of it

Designing a Course Syllabus

This guide offers suggestions and considerations for designing a syllabus for your courses.

Basic course information

A clearly designed and informative syllabus is a great first step towards helping your students succeed: transparency and clarity of information and expectations will help them understand class requirements and also provide them with the resources to help them throughout the semester. Check with your department or school/college to see if they have a template or recommendations. Here are the core elements of the basic information that would typically be included

  • Instructor contact information
  • Class location
  • Start and finish times for the class 
  • Class format: Seminar; lab; discussion sections; etc.
  • Course learning outcomes (remember, if you are teaching a class with Hub units, you will need to include these on your syllabus, too!)
  • Communication policies; procedures; including tools (e.g., email; Blackboard; Pronto; etc.).
  • Office hours and conferences: specify location and expectations; consider using digital signup programs (e.g., calendly, doodle). 
  • Course Policies: Develop a set of explicit expectations (e.g., Academic Integrity; digital communication netiquettes; and class discussion policies)
  • Troubleshooting: Whom to contact in the case of issues with technology or access of course material
  • Typical work-load for your course (e.g., how many hours of homework per week): Check out BU’s policies for typical course workload for each credit hour. You can also use this workload calculator to assess how much work you are asking students to do in the course. 
  • Additional support resources (library; student support; accommodation requests; etc.)

Course content

Ensure that you communicate the key elements of the course content with your students on the syllabus. Below are some of the considerations for communicating your course content on your syllabus:

  • Introduction to your course: Your course syllabus is the one of the first documents your students review about your course. Consider making your syllabus visually appealing by adding images where relevant, and making your syllabus multimodal. See this POV on modeling multimodality for ideas on creating multimodal syllabi and course trailers.
  • Projects and assignments: Provide a clear description of the types of projects and assignments students are expected to complete in class. Mention the tools they may need to allow for ample set-up time in advance of your course. Consider providing examples of model assignments to students so they understand requirements and standards.
  • Content resources and their modality: Adopt content resources that are available in both hard copy and/or digital format. Check availability of textbooks and required readings with the BU bookstore.
  • Tools: Decide on the tools you will be using and list them on your syllabus. Keep in mind that not all tools available for Blackboard integration are BU-supported. If you have questions regarding BU-supported tools, contact BU’s IS&T and EdTech.
  • Course outline with break-down of units/weekly plan/dates/time: Having tables with a few columns for weekly content, homework and deadlines helps with breaking down the text on your syllabus.
  • Clearly specify the in-class and out-of-class tasks for your course: Aim at distinguishing these course elements by using color, icons, etc.
  • Mention where students can access the discussion posts of your course, if any, and provide the tools students need to access these posts: This is another way to “see”, “hear”, and get to know your students (e.g. discussion posts may be through discussion forums, blogs, wikis, journals and they may be text, audio or video posts). Planning out all the discussions in advance (if possible) and the modality of the discussions will help tremendously in your course design and activities. 

Discussion Post Tip: Consider having rubrics for the discussion segment of your course to clarify student expectations. 

Assessment criteria

With increased digital tasks and use of digital tools in assessment tasks, it is important to clarify assessment expectations for submissions, so students know how they are being graded.

  • Grading break-down: Provide a clear break-down of your grading criteria.
  • Clarify the expectations for class participation by collaboratively developing a rubric with your students. 

Additional syllabus tips

Below are some additional suggestions for building your syllabus. Please consult the syllabus considerations checklist above to complement these tips.

Syllabus Tip 1

Consider having a shorter version of your syllabus for students for their day-to-day use. These shorter syllabi could be presented in more visual ways, such as a graphic (concept map), which provides an overview of the course and learning outcomes. If web-based, your syllabus could be more multi-modal and include multimedia (images, videos, etc.). Here is an example of a short, multimodal syllabus created with Adobe Express.

Syllabus Tip 2

You may want to consider making elements of your syllabus collaborative work with your students. Consider having a ‘blank syllabus’. See this Lightning Talk for more information on the blank syllabus. 

Syllabus Tip 3

Consider having a living syllabus (one where changes are possible) on your Bb site. Typically, course syllabi are static, and even if course plans/dates change throughout the semester, the syllabus itself never changes. Your Blackboard site gives you the space for this live syllabus allowing you to make changes and alert the students to these changes. Platforms such as Adobe Express also provide this space.

Syllabus Tip 4

Revisit your learning goals and outcomes presented in the syllabus throughout the semester course, and make special connections to the activities and assessment tasks you are doing in class. Incorporate time for reflection for the students throughout your course, so students have an opportunity to make connections to learning goals through journal or blog posts. 

Download a PDF Version of this Guide