Communicate Values in Your Syllabus

conversation bubbleDoes Your Syllabus Communicate Your Values as an instructor?

A course syllabus is an important document to do exactly this. While a syllabus may principally provide some of the “nuts and bolts” about a course and communicate campus-wide policies, it can also be a place to consider the tone and environment you’re creating for students before the class even begins. 

As you review your syllabus for the term, consider the following factors to help support you in cultivating the kind of classroom environment you hope to build:

  1. Define what learning looks like in your class. When students sign up for your class, they likely expect to find a list of content areas or subjects they’ll learn about. Consider taking this a step further and give them some information about what you expect they’ll experience as learners. What do you expect students or learners to do in the class to be successful? How are the roles of students/learners outlined? What do you expect students to be able to do or think about during the class? After the class is over? This might look like creating an “Expectations for Student Learning section” or a comparison table that outlines what your role is as the instructor and what their role is as the learner. 

  2. Outline how students can get support throughout the course. Most syllabi include a description of how students can expect to be graded and evaluated in a course. You may want to consider including lists of resources for how students can get support beyond formal grading mechanisms in the course, pointing to everything from campus resources such as tutoring to pointing out moments in the course calendar where students will get low-stakes or ungraded practice before they get assessed in higher-stakes contexts or settings.

  3. Communicate which assignments in your syllabus are graded and which are ungraded. In many course calendars, it may not be obvious which assignments are graded and which are merely practice. Clearly label and distinguish between graded and ungraded assignments so that students know which opportunities are available for them to learn (and fail) without a high-stakes consequence.

Our syllabus can be an evolving document, one that continues to support students in adjusting and readjusting their expectations for the course. Engaging your own syllabus process iteratively may allow you to improve the course and better align with your students’ needs each semester.