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Purposes of a Syllabus

When we think about what it is, a syllabus is most simply a document that expresses to the reader the intentions of the instructor regarding course content, learning goals, assessment approach, and expectations.  It outlines for the reader what is expected to transpire during the course and what should be learned.

Researchers have found that there are three purposes that it serves (1) as a record of the course, (2) as a contract between the instructor and the student, and (3) as a learning tool (Parkes & Harris, 2002). Several aspects that can be included on a syllabus allow it to be a good record of the course.  These may include:

  • Title, date(s) and department of course
  • Credit hours earned
  • Title and rank of instructor(s)
  • Course pre- or co-requisites as well as required texts and other materials
  • Course objectives, linked to professional standards
  • Description of course content

The inclusion of these elements create transparency and allow the department and the instructor to be held accountable to the institution, accrediting bodies, students, and other constituents.

The syllabus as a contract acts as an implicit or explicit agreement between the instructor and the student regarding what will be done by each party and how decisions related assignments and interactions will be made.  Items included in a syllabus to strengthen the contract are:

  • Clear and accurate course calendar
  • Grading policies and procedures: components and weights
  • Attendance policy
  • Late assignment and make-up exam policies
  • Policies on incompletes and revisions
  • Academic dishonesty and freedom policies
  • Accommodation of disabilities policy

Finally and perhaps most important, the syllabus can act as learning tool for students.  Items and information that lend themselves to this purpose of a syllabus are:

  • Planning and self-management skills
  • Specific study and assessment taking strategies
  • Availability of instructor(s) and teacher assistants
  • Campus resources for assistance
  • Relevance and importance of the course to students

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