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The syllabus for your course serves as both the roadmap of your course and a contract between student and instructor. Here you will establish course goals, expectations, policies, and the schedule for the course. A syllabus is required for all Purdue courses.  Each semester, Innovative Learning reviews the syllabus framework, identifying needed updates and resources.  

Brightspace has a sample syllabus embedded in the course. When you are ready to post your syllabus, be sure to swap out the syllabus placeholder with your syllabus. 

For more about the syllabus and the guidelines, see the Academic Regulations section titled Constructing Your Syllabus

Communicating Course Policies 

Many instructors develop course policies and wording around course policies in response to teaching experiences. This means policies are often written in ways that are authoritative and controlling, stating what a student must or should do and/or what penalties will be imposed upon failure to follow particular directions. Having clear and transparent structure is important, but research reveals that humans are motivated by feelings of autonomy and relatedness, so these structures are more likely to be internalized and valued when they are described in the context of balancing structure and autonomy. Explain how these structures can facilitate engagement between students and between the instructor and students with the core belief that everyone shares a mutual goal of successful learning. 

Ensure key policies are provided in your syllabus (see Policies to Include in Your Syllabus in the Academic Regulations path). Please note that every Brightspace course shell is created with a template that contains policies that were added by the Office of the Provost. These pre-populated policies should not be edited, removed or hidden. 

Syllabus Tone

Syllabi play a number of important roles in a course. Perhaps none are more important than how they can set the tone for a class by setting a standard of how we communicate with students. It has become popular to refer to the syllabus as a contract because of the role it plays in establishing rules. There are a few challenges to this perspective:

  1. In contemporary American society we rarely read contracts, certainly not in full, partly because we assume they are written to be inaccessible.
  2. Contracts function to document an agreement made between parties, but, in most cases, syllabi are constructed before any interaction or engagement with the students in a particular class, meaning those students have no input, nor can a contract address individual needs or circumstances that may be necessary for creating equitable opportunities for students to succeed.
  3. The vast majority of instructors are not trained to write contracts, and in writing outside of our skillset, it is likely that we will generate unintended errors. 

Instead of writing in a formal contractual language, think about how you can use the syllabus to set the tone for the environment you would like in the class. Also, remember that, if we want students to read and engage meaningfully with the syllabus, we should write with them as the audience. Think about how you would explain your course, goals, structure, and policies to a student who wants to learn about your course when approaching registration and use that as guidance for construction in the syllabus. Additionally, if you want your students to know that you value them as people with meaningful backgrounds and perspectives, write in a tone that invites this more humanizing approach. This does not mean that you need to have overly lenient or vague policies. You can write with great clarity and precision while also being friendly and approachable. In fact, most people prefer a clear balance of structure and autonomy as opposed to overly vague structures. 

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