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Syllabus Design

The syllabus is one of the most important documents that a professor will provide a student during the course. It represents a contract between the professor and the student.

Each school at VIU has a preferred syllabi template (be sure to check with your school’s administrator), so some of the components will be set for you as the instructor. Syllabi have a great deal of contractual information, so to speak. These include the standard university policies detailed below as well as basic information (semester, year, contact information, etc.).

However, there are additional elements of every syllabus that you will have the ability to modify (sometimes with administrative approval), such as schedule, content, assignments, and so on. This is the “meat” of the syllabus.

You should consider the following questions in order to develop your class syllabus:

  1. What are the resources available to me during this course?
  2. What do I want the students to learn in this class?
  3. What are the needs of the students?
  4. What are the institution-specific needs?
  5. How do all of these factors interrelate?

Addressing these questions will allow you to conceptualize the course in its entirety for the environment in which you will teach at VIU.

Provide sufficient detail. Students will benefit from a thorough and comprehensive syllabus which will “tell [them] where they will end up when the semester is over and how they will get there” (Wankat, 2002, p.48). Essentially, provide students with the roadmap for how they successfully will negotiate the semester.

Finally, use the syllabus as a means of trying to demonstrate why a student should take your class. How will this class be different than another section? Why should they want you as an instructor? What do you bring that no one else can? Remember that you are the content expert and you are part of this community for that specific reason. Express yourself as such.

Below are some example syllabi.

Sample General Education Department ENGL 120 Syllabus Template

Sample Online Syllabus Template


Altman, H. B. (1989). Syllabus shares “what the teacher wants.” Teaching Professor, 3(5), 1-2.

Altman, H. B., & Cashin, W. E. (1992). Writing a Syllabus. IDEA Paper No. 27.

Calhoon, S., & Becker, A. (2008). How students use the course syllabus. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(1), 6.

Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Ludwig, M. A., Bentz, A. E., & Fynewever, H. (2011). Your syllabus should set the stage for assessment for learning. Journal of College Science Teaching,40(4), 20-23.

Wankat, P. (2002). The effective, efficient professor: Teaching, scholarship and service. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.