Syllabi (in any form) should be available on or before the first day of class to all students. There are several options available when choosing the format in which you will present your syllabus. Many faculty choose traditional formats, while others choose to upload templates from Blackboard (see the faculty guide to Blackboard for more information). For those who decide to use Blackboard or another digital method to share the syllabus, it is still best practice to hand out an abbreviated syllabus with basic course and contact information and with clear instructions on how to access the full syllabus during the first class period. Faculty who are using a digital syllabus should ensure that all students in the course are aware of and know how to access the electronic format (such as Blackboard), with appropriate assistance if needed.
At its most fundamental level, a course syllabus is essentially a contract between the instructor and the student and is a vital tool for communicating expectations between students and faculty. A well-constructed syllabus provides a road map for the course, answers frequently asked questions, can help to lessen student anxiety, and allows the faculty member to concentrate on instruction.
At another level, though, a syllabus is the embodiment of your philosophy of teaching and learning. Implicit in every assignment, every choice of textbook, every discussion topic should be an indication of what you want your students to learn from your course and why you want them to learn it. Because critical thinking is at the heart of academic work, emphasize how your course will help them develop the kinds of skills with inquiry and problem solving that will benefit them throughout their time in college and into their lives as professionals.
The following checklist can assist you in determining whether your syllabus includes all of the components considered essential.
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» About you (and your TA):
- Office phone numbers (may also include personal phone number, but this is not required nor always advisable)
- Mason e-mail address
- Website (if any)
- Office hours
- Mason does not have a formal written policy regarding faculty office hours. All faculty are expected to be available to meet with and respond to students as appropriate. All syllabi should inform students how and when faculty are available. Faculty teaching online courses should make clear how and when students can connect with them in the online space.
- Course number and section
- Credit hours
- Meeting days and times
- Building and room
» Prerequisites (course and/or skills)
» Required purchases (texts and supplies)
» Space for names and telephone numbers of at least two classmates
- Ask students to fill this in on the first day – this connects them with others in the class, gives them someone to contact about questions, and starts to build a community in the classroom.
» Description of the course.
- Why do people study this area of knowledge?
- How will instruction be handled: lectures, discussions, group work, labs, etc.?
- What is the value of the course to the student?
- How does this particular course fit into the student’s discipline or general education requirement?
- Why is the course content arranged in this order?
» Course goals and objectives. What factual material, characteristics, qualities, abilities, or competencies do you expect the student to have mastered at the end of the course?
» General Education Learning Objectives fulfilled by this course (if applicable).
» Grading standards, weight, and criteria for each graded component to be included in the final grade. This may include points for class participation.
» Course assignments and projects:
- Due dates
- Format suggestions/requirements
- Level/type of research expected
- Approximate length, criteria for grading
- An explanation of the purpose of each assignment and project
- The University Catalog is the central resource for university policies affecting student, faculty, and staff conduct in university academic affairs. However, faculty have the authority to set additional policies for their class.
- Policies regarding attendance and participation. If participation is included in the grade, how do you define and measure participation? Remember that you cannot grade solely based on attendance at Mason; attendance can, however, be factored into the grade for participation.
- Policy regarding late assignments, make-up exams, and extra credit.
- Policy regarding incompletes.
- Policy on electronic devices (laptops, cell phones, pagers, etc.). Mason does not currently have an official policy for the use of electronic devices in the classroom, but many faculty have expressed curiosity as to what such a policy might look like. Some things to think about as you construct your own policy include:
- Are electronic devices required for your class?
- What are your expectations for student learning?
- Will the use of electronic devices enhance or impede student learning?
- What qualifies as a misuse of electronic devices?
- What happens if students misuse their devices?
The following are four sample statements regarding electronic devices. Please feel free to use these statements in your syllabi or to adapt them as needed for your course. Please note that best practices for policies on electronic devices would include an exception for emergencies involving family, illness, etc.
For courses in which technology is required:
- The use of laptop computers is required in this class. If you do not own a laptop, one will be available for you to check out during class time. You will only be permitted to work on material related to the class, however. Engaging in activities not related to the course (e.g., gaming, email, chat, etc.) will result in a significant deduction in your participation grade.
- Because this is a computer classroom, we will frequently be using the internet as a means to enhance our discussions. We will also be using the computers for our in-class writing assignments. Please be respectful of your peers and your instructor and do not engage in activities that are unrelated to the class. Such disruptions show a lack of professionalism and may affect your participation grade.
For courses in which technology is NOT required:
- Cell phones, pagers, and other communicative devices are not allowed in this class. Please keep them stowed away and out of sight. Laptops or tablets (e.g., iPads) may be permitted for the purpose of taking notes only, but you must submit a request in writing to do so. Engaging in activities not related to the course (e.g., gaming, email, chat, etc.) will result in a significant deduction in your participation grade.
- Regarding electronic devices (such as laptops, cell phones, etc.), please be respectful of your peers and your instructor and do not engage in activities that are unrelated to class. Such disruptions show a lack of professionalism and may affect your participation grade.
Include a statement about academic integrity within the context of your class, including consequences for violating the standards. The University Honor Code is upheld and supported by the Office for Academic Integrity. The following are three sample statements about Academic Integrity shared by faculty from their syllabi. Please feel free to use these statements in your syllabi or adapt them as needed for your course.
- The integrity of the University community is affected by the individual choices made by each of us. GMU has an Honor Code with clear guidelines regarding academic integrity. Three fundamental and rather simple principles to follow at all times are that: (1) all work submitted be your own; (2) when using the work or ideas of others, including fellow students, give full credit through accurate citations; and (3) if you are uncertain about the ground rules on a particular assignment, ask for clarification. No grade is important enough to justify academic misconduct. Plagiarism means using the exact words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving the person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or endnotes. Paraphrased material must also be cited, using MLA or APA format. A simple listing of books or articles is not sufficient. Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in the academic setting. If you have any doubts about what constitutes plagiarism, please see me.
- As in many classes, a number of projects in this class are designed to be completed within your study group. With collaborative work, names of all the participants should appear on the work. Collaborative projects may be divided up so that individual group members complete portions of the whole, provided that group members take sufficient steps to ensure that the pieces conceptually fit together in the end product. Other projects are designed to be undertaken independently. In the latter case, you may discuss your ideas with others and conference with peers on drafts of the work; however, it is not appropriate to give your paper to someone else to revise. You are responsible for making certain that there is no question that the work you hand in is your own. If only your name appears on an assignment, your professor has the right to expect that you have done the work yourself, fully and independently.
- GMU is an Honor Code university; please see the Office for Academic Integrity for a full description of the code and the honor committee process. The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. What does academic integrity mean in this course? Essentially this: when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in an aspect of the performance of that task, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions. When in doubt (of any kind) please ask for guidance and clarification.
All syllabi should include a statement about accommodations for disabilities. For more information about accommodations and other information related to students with disabilities, please contact Mason’s Office of Disability Services. The following are three sample statements about disability accommodations. Please feel free to use these statements in your syllabi or adapt them as needed for your course.
- If you have a documented learning disability or other condition that may affect academic performance you should: 1) make sure this documentation is on file with Office of Disability Services (SUB I, Rm. 4205; 993-2474;http://ods.gmu.edu) to determine the accommodations you need; and 2) talk with me to discuss your accommodation needs.
- If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at 993-2474, http://ods.gmu.edu. All academic accommodations must be arranged through the ODS.
- If you have a learning or physical difference that may affect your academic work, you will need to furnish appropriate documentation to the Office of Disability Services. If you qualify for accommodation, the ODS staff will give you a form detailing appropriate accommodations for your instructor. In addition to providing your professors with the appropriate form, please take the initiative to discuss accommodation with them at the beginning of the semester and as needed during the term. Because of the range of learning differences, faculty members need to learn from you the most effective ways to assist you. If you have contacted the Office of Disability Services and are waiting to hear from a counselor, please tell me.
As a Mason faculty member, you are asked to keep diversity, one of the university’s core values, in mind throughout the semester and are encouraged to include Mason’s Diversity Statement on your syllabus.
Student privacy is governed by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and is an essential aspect of any course. Instructor responsibilities with respect to student privacy are an important consideration when designing your syllabus, especially–though certainly not exclusively–when it comes to faculty and student digital communication. For that reason, please require students to use their Mason email. As an employee of the state of Virginia, it is also required that you use your Mason email when communicating with students. Sample syllabus language for email usage:
- Students must use their MasonLive email account to receive important University information, including messages related to this class. See http://masonlive.gmu.edu for more information.
- Topics to be covered in sequence with dates.
- Use Mason’s Academic Calendar and Final Exam Schedule to set due dates for your assignments, projects, exams, etc.
- Please be aware of this calendar of religious holidays and observations so that we can minimize difficulties for students of different faiths.