What's In a Good Syllabus?

A syllabus is one of the most important tools that you will use in your college classroom. It is the agreement between you and the student about the topics and sequence of the course instruction. In addition, it serves as the explanation for how evaluation decisions will be made about student performance. The syllabus, in effect, becomes an agreement which forms an academic contract with the students in your class and you.

Despite its key role within a course, there is not one single way or approach to putting together the components or elements of the syllabus. This section will give you an overview of what Mississippi State University requires and some pointers on getting started with your syllabi.

MSU's Policy

What does MSU say about what a syllabus should be? While there is no standard MSU format for a syllabus, MSU does have a policy (AOP 13.03) which addresses faculty responsibilities in instruction. That policy states that the faculty member

"should clearly state the learning objectives for the course, assignments and exams, standards of achievement, methods of evaluation (including the relative importance to be assigned to various factors), and the date of the final examination (page 1 of AOP 13.03)."

Additionally, it says that the course syllabus should be presented at the first meeting and that no variation is allowed. It also says that a faculty member must include a statement referencing the MSU Honor Code (AOP 12.07).

Getting Started

Other than these general guidelines, where do you get started with a good syllabus? Although most departments will supply you with a recently used syllabus, you will still likely have to update it for the current textbook and your own instructional plan. You will minimally have to add your own contact information and course policies. Your department may allow some modifications over the existing syllabus, but you should keep in mind that your course content should not change by more than 25% from the approved syllabus, otherwise you would have to apply for a course modification through the University Committee on Courses and Curricula.

You may also find that your college or department has a standard syllabus template to use that allows for consistency in presentation, which is especially helpful when preparing accreditation reports.

This web site won't give you a perfect cook book recipe for a good syllabus, but we can offer some considerations that will help you think through the syllabus development process. We did not want to reinvent material that is already available, but we did want to condense it for you using some examples and ideas from other institutions.

 

A classic book that covers a lot of important classroom pointers that you might also find interesting and helpful is:

McKeachie, W. J. & Svinicki, M. (2005). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

One final note for you to remember: the staff in the Center for Teaching and Learning is also available to assist you with your syllabus and your instructional development and evaluation activities. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to you.