As a student, I did not receive a course syllabus until college. My first instructor who actually reviewed the syllabus in class was in graduate. Now, as a teacher I am required to distribute a syllabus each term. Despite my experience as an undergraduate, I make a point of reviewing the syllabus in the first class session.
The syllabus can serve as an orientation tool for the student. What should instructors do with a course syllabus? As an orientation tool, a syllabus serves at least three purposes.
1. Initial Contact
The course syllabus provides the first point of tangible contact with the instructor. Students often come into a course with anxiety about course expectations and their desire to perform well in the course. The problem is compounded with freshman students or students having their first experience with an instructor.
The initial contact function is the first step in building a relationship between instructor and student. The instructor’s contact information is essential. The contact information includes the instructor’s office location, office hours, phone number, and email address. The initial contact function of the syllabus breaks down an interpersonal barrier between instructors and students and ideally relieves student anxiety about the course.
The syllabus details the course requirements (e.g., papers, tests). The syllabus includes assignment instructions and due dates. The syllabus will include the writing policy for the course such as identifying a formatting style and a statement reinforcing the need to follow grammatical rules. Common formatting styles in higher education include APA, MLA, and Turabian. The writing policy usually identifies resources that can be helpful in writing papers or directs students to tutoring on campus.
The final use of a syllabus is to familiarize the student with course procedures. The classroom will become a type of culture as the term unfolds. A productive class culture requires that the group understand and follow the rules. The rules are course procedures. Course procedures include the attendance policy, assignment make-up policy, and the assignment due dates’ policy. The method of evaluation and grading is another course procedure required in the syllabus accompanied by the formula for calculating the final grade. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires a statement indicating the provisions made for those with disabilities and directs students in need of this service to the on campus ADA representative. Finally, the course procedures include an academic honesty statement that explains the consequences of engaging in dishonest student behavior such as cheating or plagiarism.
The course syllabus serves an important function in a course. Instructors will be wise to use the syllabus as a tool to orient the student to the course, to mitigate confusion, and to relieve student anxiety.