Components of a well-designed syllabus or course outline

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Overview

No single syllabus format or content applies to every university course. However, a number of components can make the course syllabus more informative, useful and engaging. The course syllabus serves as a contract between you and your students and can help when restructuring or revisiting your course. It is also a historical record that documents the course structure and procedures and can help with an external review of your teaching. Inclusion of the following components will help ensure that your syllabus serves these functions. The suggested components below reflect the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.

Last updated: December 7, 2023

Download the checklist

To accompany this resource, we have developed a PDF checklist that includes the criteria and recommendations listed on this webpage. Please also refer to your Faculty/department for templates or other applicable statements to include.

Overall structure and organization

Your syllabus should be structured in the following four sections (click on each for more details):

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Some notes on style

  • Write in a positive tone that is respectful and inviting
  • Use an active voice and in first or second person
  • Ensure the purpose and value of the course is described as a series of opportunities rather than a series of hurdles
  • Communicate high expectations and confidence of success
  • Clearly organize the document using headings and legible, accessible fonts
  • Use purposeful and visually appealing images
  • Provide both an electronic and hardcopy versions

General course information

  • Course name, department, number, section, dates/times and location(s)
  • Office hours, locations, contact information, website and/or Brightspace, and communication protocol (see post on course communications and office hours)
  • Course prerequisites and how the course fits into university programs
  • Instructor bio and teaching statement (background, teaching and research experience)
  • Opportunities for students to provide feedback: early, mid-term, and CES

Intended Learning Outcomes

Course-level and unit-level ILOs are:

  • clearly articulated so students know what to do to be successful
  • framed with action verbs and are appropriately pitched

Assessment and activities

Learning Activities

  • Course schedule is listed with unit-level ILOs
  • Include major topics, questions, and dates
  • Learning activities are aligned with assessment and ILOs
  • Learning activities derive from evidence-based practices, are active and provide timely formative feedback

Assessment Activities

  • Assessments are aligned with ILOs
  • Summative assessments are clearly described, percentages are assigned, and ILOs are explained with examples
  • Formative assessments are aligned with summative assessments
  • Assessments are effectively spaced out and sequenced, with multiple ways to submit
  • Formative assessments frequently provide sufficient practice opportunities
  • Grading information is provided
  • Rubrics for assignments are provided or indicated
  • Study guides and other aids are provided to support learning

Required Readings and Materials

  • Required readings are included with complete citations, price, and where available are accessible to students prior to course start
  • Explain reasoning for why required readings were chosen
  • List any additional resources required, approximate costs and purposes

University statements and supports

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We strongly advise the use of the following University statements and supports within your syllabus and/or course site.

Territory Acknowledgement

Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement is situated in the First Peoples House and its primary purpose is to support the success of Indigenous students attending UVic. Information is available on the use of the Territory Acknowledgement.
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Syllabus statement:

We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

Attendance and absences

Although attendance is important, instructors are encouraged where possible to provide flexibility. If illness, accident, or family affliction causes a student to miss the final exam or to fail to complete any assignment by the end of the term, the student must submit a Request for Academic Concession. Policies regarding undergraduate student academic concessions and deferrals are also detailed on the Undergraduate Records site. For graduate students, complete the Graduate Academic Concession Form and submit it to your graduate secretary.
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Syllabus statement:

Medical documentation for short-term absences is not required for the Spring 2021 term (approved by Senate). Attendance is important. Students who can not attend due to illness are asked to notify their instructors immediately. If illness, accident, or family affliction causes a student to miss the final exam or to fail to complete any assignment by the end of the term students are required to submit a request for academic concession.

Accessibility and capturing of video content

Accessibility is an important consideration in the design of this course.  Accessibility and universal design for learning resources are available as well as information on captioning.
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Syllabus statement:

Auto-generated transcription and captioning is enabled in this course. Please be aware that automated transcription and captioning is at best 70-90% accurate and by nature will include error. This depends on the subject matter, speaker, audio quality etc. Words prone to error include specialized terminology and proper names. Students are asked to refer to the audio feed for clarification of any errors. If you find transcription or captioning that is offensive, please contact your instructor and/or teaching assistant so that they are aware. If you require captions as part of an academic accommodation, please contact CAL.

Academic Integrity

The University of Victoria Calendar states that academic integrity “requires commitment to the values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. It is expected that students, faculty members and staff at the University of Victoria, as members of an intellectual community, will adhere to these ethical values in all activities related to learning, teaching, research and service.”
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Syllabus statement:

Students are required to abide by all academic regulations set as set out in the University calendar, including standards of academic integrity. Violations of academic integrity (e.g. cheating and plagiarism) are considered serious and may result in significant penalties.
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Academic Integrity Pledge:

Students must abide by UVic academic regulations and observe standards of ‘scholarly integrity,’ (no plagiarism or cheating). Therefore, this exam must be taken individually and not with a friend, classmate, or group, nor can you access notes, course materials, the internet, or other resources while completing the exam. You are also prohibited from sharing any information about the exam with others. I (type in name) affirm that I will not give or receive any aid on this exam or access any unauthorized resources and that all work will be my own.

Generative Artificial Intelligence

The University of Victoria (UVic) encourages innovative teaching practices and supports instructors who may like to adopt new pedagogical approaches and learning technologies. Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI) is a form of machine learning with the capabilities to produce text, images, video, music, code, etc. Using machine learning algorithms, GenAI can generate content requested by a human user based on prompts.  GenAI tools are rapidly evolving and becoming more widely available. Harnessed appropriately and ethically, this technology can offer exciting new approaches to learning and teaching and prepare students to engage with GenAI tools beyond the post-secondary education context.

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Syllabus statement:

Copyright

It is important that students adhere to the Copyright Act, which provides legal protection to original work (written, recorded and artistic work including communications). Copyright protection exists as soon as a work is expressed by a fixed format (books, class notes, emails, pictures etc).

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Syllabus statement:

All course content and materials are made available by instructors for educational purposes and for the exclusive use of students registered in their class[1]. The material is protected under copyright law, even if not marked with a ©.  Any further use or distribution of materials to others requires the written permission of the instructor, except under fair dealing or another exception in the Copyright Act. Violations may result in disciplinary action under the Resolution of Non-Academic Misconduct Allegations policy (AC1300).

Class recording (Echo360)

University Systems has outfitted 114 centrally booked classrooms for basic recording of class instruction. These classrooms have a webcam and the ability to record instruction on the resident computer as well as digital content such as PowerPoint or document camera. Instructors can use the resident classroom computer installed in the room or their own UVic laptop for presenting.

Instructors are not required to record their classes. In the case of absences, you can encourage students to get notes from other students, provide students with PowerPoint slides or other digital course materials, or offer to meet with students during office hours to review miss session(s). While recording lectures are not required, students find recordings beneficial to their learning.

The new video platflorm, Echo360, will provide the learning technology support necessary for class recording. Echo360, a replacement for Kaltura, has a strong record as a reliable and effective video platform that we anticipate will provide improved performance and functionality. LTSI is working jointly with University Systems to offer support for in-class video recording.

In accordance with BC Privacy legislation, students should be informed if a class is being recorded and for what purpose.

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Syllabus statement:

Be aware that sessions in this course may be recorded to allow students who are not able to attend to watch later. The recording will be posted in Brightspace. Students who have privacy concerns can contact me and will have the option to limit their personal information shared in the recording. If you have other questions or concerns regarding class recording and privacy please contact privacyinfo@uvic.ca.

Online conduct

As an instructor, it’s important to establish a respectful, inclusive and positive learning environment that sets your expectations for students. It might seem more difficult to build trust, empathy, and shared values in an online environment without the face-to-face interaction and body language you can see in a classroom setting however, there are many things we can do in online classroom spaces to promote a positive learning environment. In some cases, online mediums can even present new opportunities to connect with your students.
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Syllabus statement:

The University of Victoria is committed to promoting critical academic discourse while providing a respectful and supportive learning environment. All members of the university community have the right to this experience and the responsibility to help create such an environment. The University will not tolerate racism, sexualized violence, or any form of discrimination, bullying or harassment.

Please be advised that, by logging into UVic’s learning systems or interacting with online resources, and course-related communication platforms, you are engaging in a university activity.

All interactions within this environment are subject to the university expectations and policies. Any concerns about student conduct may be reviewed and responded to in accordance with the appropriate university policy.

To report concerns about online student conduct: onlineconduct@uvic.ca

Mental Health

As a faculty or staff member you may be the first person to see the signs that a student is in distress or they may have come to you for help. You are a vital link to connect students with resources.

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Syllabus statement:

A note to remind you to take care of yourself. Diminished mental health can interfere with optimal academic performance. Do your best to engage in self-care and maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress. All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. The source of symptoms might be related to your course work; if so, please speak with me. However, problems with other parts of your life can also contribute to decreased academic performance. The UVic Student Wellness Centre provides cost-free and confidential mental health services to help you manage personal challenges that impact your emotional or academic well-being.

University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS)

UVSS is a social justice based non-profit, student run and led organization that works on issues affecting students; it offers supports and resources.
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Syllabus statement:

The UVSS is a social justice based non-profit run by students, for students and is entirely separate from UVic. As an undergrad student, you are already a member! We work on issues affecting students such as affordability, public transit, sexualized violence, sustainability, student employment, and much more. We fund clubs and course unions, and have several advocacy groups. We also have a Food Bank and Free Store, a Peer Support Centre, and run your health and dental plan. We are here to support you, so please reach out to us at uvss.ca!

Additional student supports

Here are a list of suggested resources to include:

References

  1. Adapted from: Grunert O’Brien, J. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach (2 ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, and Preparing Your Course Syllabus by Marty Wall
  2. Universal Design for Learning (UDL): https://mtsac.libguides.com/udl/syllabus

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This page was last updated:

June 6, 2023

We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

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