Creating a Student-Centered Syllabus

           Fran Lukacik, Allied Health                            Melissa St. Pierre, Behavioral Sciences
                  215-751-8962                                                 215-751-8570

Note: This presentation topic originated from a Leadership Institute Project developed by Michele Claybrook-Lucas
and Melissa St. Pierre.

What is a student-centered syllabus?

      “A transformation is underway in American higher education, shifting the focus away
      from what faculty members teach to what students learn – from what Barr and Tagg
      (1995) have called the instructional paradigm to what they call the learning paradigm. This new
      perspective calls for a shift in the faculty role from disseminator of knowledge to
      facilitator of learning. This shift calls for changes in how we think about the courses we
      teach, how we design students’ learning experiences, and how we articulate our
      expectations of our students and ourselves” (Grunert, 1997, pg. viii).

A traditional syllabus’ primary purpose is to provide a source of information for students regarding
the course that is being studied. Some view it as a “legal document” that serves as a contractual
agreement while others see it as a one-time deal that is reviewed day one and never referenced again.
One faculty member interviewed for this as a Leadership Institute project even commented they
seemed to be written more for her colleagues; upon reflection, she noted how her syllabus may have
even used language above her developmental students’ level!

Similarly, a student-centered syllabus also provides a source of information on the course. However,
the student-centered syllabus distinguishes itself in several ways:
  1. It is comprehensive and detailed; it provides more information rather than less.
        a. John Lough (in Grunert, 1997) noted the syllabi of the Carnegie Professor of the Year
             winners had “detailed precision,” such as clear course objectives, a daily schedule that
             included specific assignments and due dates, and explicit policies on attendance and
  2. It provides clear and explicit information on everyone’s role and responsibility: professor and
  3. It comments to the nature of course and the strategies used in class that promote interactive
      and purposeful learning.
  4. It asks you to consider how each and every aspect of your course, and section in your syllabus,
      can most effectively support and encourage student learning.
  5. It moves you from the perspective of one professor to the minds of many students.

What are the goals of a student-centered syllabus?

A student centered-syllabus is designed to:
    1. Provide a vehicle to facilitate faculty-student communication and encourage interaction

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   2. Set the classroom atmosphere: formal or informal? Groups or lecture?
   3. Explain the faculty member’s beliefs about student learning
   4. Address the logistical components of the course: when class meets, variations in the
      schedule, guest speakers, and a daily calendar
   5. Outline the responsibilities of students and the instructor
   6. Comment on how to be successful in the course, including information on additional
   7. Speak to the nature of active learning
   8. Explain the course prerequisites and skills needed prior to taking the course
   9. Clearly outline all aspects of the course to prevent misunderstandings.

Syllabus Outline
Below is a suggested outline of sections and information to include; however, this is only a
suggestion. It’s important that your syllabus show your personality and address components
important to your course. Feel free to combine or add sections as you see fit. Rather, what is more
important is that your syllabus is comprehensive and clearly communicates the necessary
information to your students.


 In this section, include your complete name and degree, the multiple ways students can contact
 you (phone number, email, and office location), your preferred method of contact, your office
 hours, and availability of appointments. It’s also a good idea to include contact information for
 any other individuals who are important to the course, such as Teaching Assistants or Learning
 Lab Instructors. To add visual appeal and a sense of organization, you can include this
 information in a table.

                        Instructor Name
                        Office Location
                        Office Hours
                        Phone Number
                        Email Address
                        Web Site

 When you discuss this section during your class, you can also let students know how you prefer to
 be addressed.


 Students can enter college classrooms with a sense of uneasiness and anxiety. Including an
 inviting welcome letter in your syllabus can help to put students at ease as well as provide a
 personal touch. In this section, it is also important to show your passion for the subject and the
 course. Let your students know why you love your subject and why you enjoy teaching. You can
 also discuss your personal beliefs on education and student learning.

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                      Course Name
                      Class Days & Time
                      Classroom Location
                      Course Credit

 This section should not only give the basic information about the course, such as name, location,
 and meeting times, but also go further to explain why the course is offered and how it fits into the
 larger picture of a degree. This section should also provide an overview of the course, how it is
 organized and the nature of class sessions. For example, do your class meetings consist mostly of
 lectures, small group activities, or something else? Finally, it is important to let students what are
 the needed prerequisites or skills required to be successful in the course.


 In this section, you should tell your students what they will know or be able to do at the end of the
 semester. This also helps to ensure that what you are teaching is aligned with what you are
 assessing and can keep you focused on the desired outcomes. For example:

 By the end of this course, students will:


 This portion of the syllabus should tell the students about the required textbooks and materials or
 supplies needed for the course. You can also provide suggested readings or sources for more
 information, such as a textbook companion web site.


 Students like to know what they will cover and when. It helps them to be prepared for class and
 can keep instructors on task. In this section, provide a day-by-day plan of topics or activities,
 assignment due dates, test dates, and other important events, such as no class or deadlines (i.e., last
 day to drop). It’s also a good idea to note that the schedule is tentative to accommodate
 unforeseen circumstances and how changes to the schedule will be communicated.


 This section clearly explains to students how they will be assessed, including tests, quizzes,
 projects, assignments, participation, etc. You can also discuss the nature of your exams (i.e.,
 multiple choice, short answer, matching, etc...) and other expectations you have for the assessment
 measures. Finally, you should clearly explain how students’ final grades will be calculated,
 including weighted calculations.

                                              Page 3 of 9

    It is important that your students know and understand your classroom rules and procedures. In
    this section, you can discuss your stance on attendance and lateness, make-up exams, and late
    work in addition to any other policies you enforce in your class. It is also very important to
    address the college’s policy on academic dishonesty; more information on the “Know the Code”
    campaign that addresses academic honesty and other integrity issues can be obtained from Finally, you might discuss the roles
    and responsibilities of you and your students.


    It is important that instructors reinforce the importance of the course syllabus and let students
    know that they should keep it throughout the entire course and sometimes beyond. It is
    important, however, not to just use the document the first day of course; instead, reference it
    often throughout the semester and refer students to it for answers to their questions as
    appropriate. Consider uploading your syllabus online to My CCP; this can transfer the
    responsibility for learning on to the student if it is lost and provides more accessibility for
    students, including those with visual disabilities or ESL students.


    In this section, you can list the campus resources and individuals that are available to help students
    during the semester. Additionally, you might include study strategies that have helped students be
    successful in the past. Topics of discussion might include time-management, methods of note-
    taking, reading strategies, study groups, and test-taking tips. Finally, this might also be a good
    place to include the following statement from the Center on Disability:

    It is the policy of Community College of Philadelphia to accommodate students with disabilities,
    pursuant to federal law and state law. Any student with a disability who needs accommodation,
    for example in arrangements for seating, examinations, use of a tape-recorder, note-taking, or
    access to information on the web should inform the instructor at the beginning of the course.
    Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the Center on Disability, located in the Mint
    building on the first floor, M1-22. Their telephone number is 215-751-8050; additional
    information about their services can be found on the College’s website, under

            Some instructors insert a quote or comic into their syllabus; for example:

  “No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is
confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows
                    great until it is focused, dedicated, and disciplined.”
  Checklist                            ~ Harry Emerson Fosdick~

                                                 Page 4 of 9

     Instructor’s name and degree
     Office location
     Office hours
     Email address
     Phone Number
     Preferred methods of contact (i.e., use of CCP email address only)
     Appointment availability
     Other individuals’ contact information (such as TA’s or Learning Lab Instructors)
     Web site URL, if available
     Comments:


     Includes an introduction
     Demonstrates a passion for subject matter
     Philosophy on teaching and learning
     Comments:


     Course Name
     CRN/Section
     Class meeting days and times
     Classroom location
     Credit hours
     Course description
     Explanation on the purpose of the course
     Nature of class sessions/methods of instruction (i.e., lecture, small groups, etc..)
     Required prerequisite courses and/or skills
     Comments:


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   Explicit statements about the outcomes for the course; what students will know or be able to
    do by the end of the semester.
   Comments:


     Required textbook and companion site (if available)
     Materials & supplies needed
     Suggested readings can be included
     Comments:


     Day by day outline of topics included
     Important dates, such as no class or last date to withdraw
     Due dates of assignments, projects, special events, etc…
     Dates of tests and/or quizzes (if announced)
     Note that the schedule is tentative & how changes will be communicated
     Comments:


   Clear explanation of methods of assessment, including tests, quizzes, projects, assignments,
      participation, etc.
     Discuss the nature of exams (i.e., multiple choice, short answer, etc...)
     Other expectations you have for the assessment measures
     Clear, easy to understand explanation on how students’ final grades will be calculated,
      including weighted calculations
     Comments:


   Attendance and lateness

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        Class participation
        Make-up exams/quizzes & late work
        Extra credit
        Classroom behaviors
        Academic dishonesty
        Instructor’s role and responsibilities
        Student’s role and responsibilities
        Comments:


        Reinforce the importance of the course syllabus
        Keep it throughout the entire course and sometimes beyond
        Posted to My CCP
        Comments:


      Campus resources and individuals that are available to help
      Study strategies, such as time-management, methods of note-taking, reading strategies, and
       test-taking tips.
      Statement from the Center on Disability
      Comments:

Other tips and suggestions

     Remember your syllabus as a learning tool: reference it often throughout the duration of the
      course. Refer your students to it for answers to their questions as appropriate.
     Try to have headings and font variations to separate the sections; this gives it a visual appeal
      that makes it easy to read and easy to locate information quickly.
     Consider giving a syllabus quiz to ensure students understand the components to your syllabus
      and to reinforce it’s importance to the course
     Ask someone unfamiliar with your class to review your syllabus for clarity
Processing Questions

                                                  Page 7 of 9
1. What, if any, changes do you think you will make to your syllabus based on today’s presentation?

2. What was most helpful, useful, or surprising about today’s presentation?

3. Were their any ideas that you disagreed with? Why?

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References/For further reading:

Altman, H.B., & Cashin, W.E. (n.d.). “Writing a syllabus.” Retrieved March 7, 2007, from
       Honolulu Community College Faculty Development Web site:

Becker, A.H. & calhoon, S.K. (1999). What introductory psychology students attend to on a
       course syllabus. Teaching of Psychology, 26, 6-11.

Bers, T., Davis, D., & Taylor, W. (1996). Syllabus Analysis: What are we teaching and telling
        our students?, Assessment Update, 8 (6), 1-15.

Eberly, M.B., Newton, S.E., & Wiggins, R.A. (2001). The syllabus as a tool for student-
        centered learning. The Journal of General Education, 50 (1), 56-74.

Grunert, J. (1997). “The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach.” Bolton, MA: Anker

Habanek, D.V. (2005). An examination of they integrity of the syllabus. College Teaching, 53
      (2), 62-65.

Shafer, M. (n.d.) “What’s in a syllabus?” Retrieved March 7, 2007,from Rutgers University Teaching
        Assistant Project Web Site:

Syllabus tutorial. (2006). Retrieved March 7, 2007, from the University of Minnesota Center
        for Teaching and Learning Web site:

Woolcock, M.J., (n.d.) Constructing a syllabus: A handbook for faculty, teaching assistants
      and teaching fellows. Retrieved March 8, 2007, from the Brown University Harriet
      W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning:

Useful Web Sites

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