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Planning your syllabus

A page within CATL Syllabus Guide

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Your syllabus can be an important point of interaction between you and your students, both in and out of class. The traditional syllabus is primarily a source of information for your students. While including basic information, the learning-centered syllabus can be an important learning tool that will reinforce the intentions, roles, attitudes, and strategies that you will use to promote active, purposeful, effective learning.

Suggested Steps for Planning Your Syllabus
  • Develop a well-grounded rationale for your course
  • Decide what you want students to be able to do as a result of taking your course, and how their work will be appropriately assessed
  • Define and delimit course content
  • Structure your students’ active involvement in learning
  • Identify and develop resources
  • Compose your syllabus with a focus on student learning
Suggested Principles for Designing a Course that Fosters Critical Thinking*
  • Critical thinking is a learnable skill; the instructor and peers are resources in developing critical thinking skills.
  • Problems, questions, or issues are the point of entry into the subject and a source of motivation for sustained inquiry.
  • Successful courses balance the challenge to think critically with support tailored to students’ developmental needs.
  • Courses are assignment centered rather than text and lecture centered. Goals, methods and evaluation emphasize using content rather than simply acquiring it.
  • Students are required to formulate their ideas in writing or other appropriate means.
  • Students collaborate to learn and to stretch their thinking, for example, in pair problem solving and small group work.
  • Courses that teach problem-solving skills nurture students’ metacognitive abilities.
  • The developmental needs of students are acknowledged and used as information in the design of the course. Teachers in these courses make standards explicit and then help students learn how to achieve them.


* Highlights from:
Grunert, Judith (1997) The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach. Bolton, Massachusetts: Anker Publishing Company, Inc previously published on the University of Delaware Center for Teaching & Assessment of Learning website.

Syllabus Functions
  • Establishes an early point of contact and connection between student and instructor
  • Helps set the tone for your course
  • Describes your beliefs about educational purposes
  • Acquaints students with the logistics of the course
  • Contains collected handouts
  • Defines student responsibilities for successful course work
  • Describes active learning
  • Helps students to assess their readiness for your course
  • Sets the course in a broader context for learning
  • Provides a conceptual framework
  • Describes available learning resources
  • Communicates the role of technology in the course
  • Can expand to provide difficult-to-obtain reading materials
  • Can improve the effectiveness of student note-taking
  • Can include material that supports learning outside the classroom
  • Can serve as a learning contract