Teaching Resources

Syllabus Design

All Rutgers faculty and instructors are expected to develop a comprehensive and detailed course syllabus for each course. All syllabi should be posted on or linked to the department’s own website by the first day of class. (Expanded Course Descriptions should be posted to the Online Schedule of Classes when registration begins for the upcoming term.) A syllabus should summarize the content, structure, and student assessment principles for your course. While a basic syllabus gives students essential information about meeting times and office hours, a full syllabus allows students to plan their coursework efficiently and balance it with the requirements of other courses.

A good syllabus will provide students with a roadmap for the semester, help them plan their class work and study calendars, and provide them with the specificity they need to help them complete their work with a full understanding of what you expect of them. Note that a syllabus is a living document, not etched in stone. As the term develops, changes will often be made as suitable and necessary.

You should approach the syllabus as a teaching tool as important as the textbook; the syllabus is where you lay out your expectations of what students should gain from the course and how their level of achievement will be assessed. Including your classroom policies as well as selected Rutgers policies in the syllabus will also encourage students to complete their work in keeping with the standards you have set for your course.

Before creating your syllabus, you should complete your semester’s teaching plan and incorporate the learning goals of the university and your academic department. Creating a comprehensive syllabus may seem time-consuming when you have a busy schedule, but the time invested in creating a syllabus helps both students and instructors. A good syllabus helps to:

  • identify and enumerate the learning goals for the course;
  • organize the content to assist in achieving the course’s learning goals;
  • prepare materials for presentation over the many weeks of the semester;
  • plan assignments and grading practices; and
  • select readings that will provide the appropriate context for lectures and discussions.

Besides incorporating these ‘best practices’ of syllabus design, it is suggested that the instructor also check with his or her dean’s office about any specific school-level policies.

An Expanded Course Description includes the information that must be available to students as they register; it is designed to give students basic information relevant to choosing courses. A syllabus most likely includes all the information in the Expanded Course Description, but goes beyond it to include more detailed information and lengthier descriptions. A syllabus can be considered – in different ways – both a narrowing and an expansion of the Expanded Course Description (ECD).

The syllabus is a narrowing of the ECD in the sense that the ECD may describe the full realm of possibilities for a course, while the syllabus may focus those possibilities into the narrower topics that can actually be addressed during a semester. For example, an ECD for the 3-credit Introduction to Sociology (01:920:101) will include the catalog course description (“Introduction to the systematic study of Society and social behavior.”) This course description gives very little information about what will actually be covered in the class; the instructor must specify in the syllabus that, for example, the course will accomplish the introduction to the systematic study of society and social behavior via study of institutions such as the family, the university, or the corporation; or via the analytical perspectives of race, class, or gender.

The syllabus is an expansion of the ECD in the sense that it is much more detailed and likely much longer than the ECD. A syllabus will typically include a daily or weekly schedule; extended descriptions of assignments, grading policies, and due dates; a course description or synopsis; etc.

In some departments or areas, individual instructors may be responsible for preparing both the Expanded Course Description and their syllabus. In others, administrators or committees may prepare the Expanded Course Description as a document generic enough to cover all sections of a given course, and instructors will prepare the syllabus as a more individualized document specific to the section.

What to include in your syllabus:

Click each item for more information.

For Remote and Online Courses

Online and Remote course information
  • Articulation of how office hours will be conducted
  • How to reach the instructor outside of class
  • How to join the synchronous classes 
  • If the meeting is ended due to technical problems or disruption how the instructor will contact students (Canvas announcement, message, email etc.)
    • Will the meeting continue in the same platform or move to a new platform?
    • If the course is normally recorded, will you make a new recording or will you make an edited version of recording available?
  • Attendance policies for synchronous sessions
“Netiquette” Policies
  • Identify yourself in all email or Canvas message correspondence. Begin messages with a greeting and close with your name.
  • Avoid sarcasm. It can be misinterpreted and cause hurt feelings. 
  • Keep the dialog collegial and professional. Some discussion topics may be controversial. 
  • Do not flame – These are outbursts of extreme emotion or opinion. Think twice before you submit a response. You cannot edit or delete your posts once they have been submitted. 
  • Do not use offensive language or profanity. 
  • Use clear subject lines for your posts. 
  • Do not use all caps. It is the online equivalent of YELLING! 
  • Avoid using abbreviations or acronyms – like UNESCO – unless the entire class knows them. 
  • Use emoticons to clarify your emotions. They add context to your words that cannot be seen otherwise. 🙂 
  • Be forgiving. Anyone can make a mistake.

Basic Information

Course title and number
  • Include the course title and course number as they appear in the Schedule of Classes, including all crosslisted sections.
Instructor’s name and contact information
  • For each instructor and teaching assistant include office hours (day, time and location) and at least one of the following: phone, email, webpage, postal address.
Course meeting times and locations
  • Include the semester and year. Refer to the academic calendar to account for holidays, breaks, and changes in class schedule. Refer to building information at Rutgers Maps.
Course site address
  • Canvas is the Learning Management System of Rutgers University. Provide the direct link to your course site.
Course description or synopsis
  • Provide a description or synopsis that may address the following: the material the course will cover; the relationship of the course to other courses in the area or department; the relationship of the course to the field; the intended audience of the course; the theoretical or methodological assumptions that structure the course; and any other relevant information.
  • List any prerequisites necessary for the course, and/or alternatives such as placement testing.
Learning goals
  • Learning goals should be included for every course. Courses may have individualized learning goals, or learning goals that dovetail with the area/department or unit.
Required readings and materials
  • Arrange with the university bookstore (and if you wish, other local vendors) to stock your books, but also list the ISBN numbers (required) and specific edition information (if pertinent) so students can shop online for the best prices. If your reading list includes works that are in the public domain (including all books published 75 or more years ago; review this copyright chart for more detail) include links to free editions at Project Gutenberg, Archive.org, or other ebook distributors. More resources are listed at the Rutgers Library Open Resources page.
Additional materials
  • Some courses require the students to purchase additional materials such as lab supplies, art supplies, specialized software, etc. These should be listed on the syllabus, along with possible locations for purchase. If you require your students to use specific software such as MatLab or SPSS, check the university software licences to see if students are eligible for free downloads or reduced pricing. OIT has also made some statistical packages available for remote use.
Exam times and locations
  • Include the exam search page link http://finalexams.rutgers.edu so that students will have the official information including any changes that may unexpectedly occur. The Scheduling web site lists the common exam schedules for both Fall and Spring, also available at the exam search page. If your course has common hour exams, include that information as well.
Required assignments and grading policies
  • Assignments to be graded including due dates and grade distribution/percent value of each assignment; any policies on missed or late assignments and make-up exams; any policies on graded attendance, recitations sections, labs, etc.
Weekly Schedule
  • Daily or weekly schedule of assignments, readings, lecture topics, etc., or an outline of the procedure by which such assignments will be made. See also Extended Information below.
Religious Holiday Policy

Please include the university’s religious holiday policy. University Equity and Inclusion provides a religious holidays calendar. Below are statements that could be included on a syllabus or modified to meet the needs of a course:

OTEAR Example 1

Absences due to a religious observance holiday that falls within the semester will be excused, so long as you let me know in writing at least two days in advance. You will be responsible for making up any work you miss. You may also request additional time for assignments or homework that is due on a day when you have a religious observance. If you miss an in-class assignment or exam due to your observance and have notified me ahead of time, I will arrange for an alternative date. However, please note that you are still responsible for attending any regularly scheduled quizzes or exams that occur after the religious holiday is observed.

OTEAR Example 2

Should you need to be absent from class due to a religious observance or another legitimate concern such as a family emergency, a medical procedure, or a severe illness, please contact me ahead of time to let me know. As long as I receive a request ahead of time, I can make arrangements for you to make up any missed work. If I do not hear ahead of time, I will need a note from the dean of students.

School of Graduate Studies, Newark

“It is the policy of the university to excuse without penalty students who are absent because of religious observances and to allow these students to make up work missed because of such absences. Examinations and special required out-of-class activities ordinarily will not be scheduled on those days when such students refrain from participating in secular activities. Absences for reasons of religious obligation are not counted for reporting purposes. A student not in attendance for an examination because of required religious observance will be given an opportunity to make up the examination without penalty.”

Mason Gross School of the Arts

“University policy excuses absences due to religious observance or participation in Rutgers-approved activities, and permits students to make up work missed for these circumstances.”

Attendance Policy
  • When creating an attendance policy refer to the university attendance policyreligious holiday policyreligious holidays calendar. If you choose to base part of the grade on attendance, you should state that in both the “grading policy” and “attendance” sections of your syllabus. Additional attendance requirements may be set by your school or department; these are often listed in the course catalogs.
Academic Integrity Policy

Instructors are advised to include statements on Academic Integrity in the syllabus for every course. Such a statement has two advantages: it informs the student that he or she is expected to uphold standards of academic integrity and allows the instructor the opportunity to define special rules for academic integrity that apply in each class. This statement on the syllabus may be particularly important when it deals with areas that are not always clear in the minds of students.

Statements can be general or specific. Instructors may wish to address questions about the definition of plagiarism, acceptable methods of citation (particularly if instructors specify a style manual or have departmental guidelines), rules for cooperation among students on assignments and laboratory work, conduct on exams, or other areas of concern. Instructors should include a link to or description of the current Academic Integrity Policy. Instructors may want to include an Honor Pledge (“On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received any unauthorized aid on this [exam/test/paper]”), or a plagiarism tutorial such as those found on the Rutgers University Libraries tutorial Don’t Plagiarize! Document Your Research, or the Camden Library Plagiarism Tutorial.

Below are statements that could be included on a syllabus or be modified to meet the needs of a course:

Rutgers SAS Example

University Code of Student Conduct: It’s important to realize that coming to the University brings you into a scholarly community, and as with all communities, there are principles and standards of behavior and action. Below, is the Preamble to the University Code of Student Conduct. (The full document can be found at http://studentconduct.rutgers.edu/student-conduct-processes/university-code-of-student-conduct/)

University Code of Student Conduct: Preamble: A university in a free society must be devoted to the pursuit of truth and knowledge through reason and open communication among its members. Its rules should be conceived for the purpose of furthering and protecting the rights of all members of the university community in achieving these ends.

All members of the Rutgers University community are expected to behave in an ethical and moral fashion, respecting the human dignity of all members of the community and resisting behavior that may cause danger or harm to others through violence, theft, or bigotry. All members of the Rutgers University community are expected to adhere to the civil and criminal laws of the local community, state, and nation, and to regulations promulgated by the university. All members of the Rutgers University community are expected to observe established standards of scholarship and academic freedom by respecting the intellectual property of others and by honoring the right of all students to pursue their education in an environment free from harassment and intimidation. (From the Preamble, University Code of Student Conduct, Policy on Academic Dishonesty)

I want to make it very clear to everyone that I will not tolerate cheating in any of my courses. If I believe someone is cheating on a quiz or exam or paper, I will report the incident directly to the Dean, who will take the matter from there. Examples of such cheating are copying answers from someone else’s test onto your own, copying material from reference sources and representing them as your own ideas or writings, storing information in a calculator’s memory and using it on the exam, using notes or such during the exam when not approved by me, working together on projects that are to be done on your own, etc. I urge all of you to become familiar with the University procedures for dealing with academic dishonesty. It can be found at: https://academicintegrity.rutgers.edu/

Generic Example

Students in this class and in all courses at Rutgers University are expected to uphold the highest standards of academic integrity. Cheating, plagiarism in written work, receiving and providing unauthorized assistance, and sabotaging the work of others are among the behaviors that constitute violations of the Academic Integrity Policy. You are expected to be familiar with this policy. If you have questions about specific assignments, be sure to check with the instructor. The Academic Integrity Policy defines all forms of cheating and the procedures for dealing with violations. You should be familiar with this policy. The trust between the instructor and the class depends on your acceptance of this essential principle of behavior in the University. Do your own work and do not provide unauthorized assistance to others and you will find this course more rewarding.

Other Resources:
Rutgers Academic Integrity
Penn State Academic Integrity
UC San Diego Academic Integrity

Integrity-checking Services (e.g., Turnitin, Proctortrack)

Extended Information

Major assignment or project details
  • Due dates and instructions for major assignments with details of grading practices and any policies on missed or late assignments.
Bibliography of additional readings and resources
  • Additional resources, in the form of published articles or books, websites, videos, etc. can add richness to students’ experiences, and allow them to seek out relevant information according to their own interests. Many syllabi double as topic-area bibliographies to which instructors add as new research is published. These can be valuable resources not only to the instructor but also to students who wish to pursue further inquiry in the field.
Online Learning Tools
Resources for remediation
Accommodations for special needs

Weekly Schedule may include such sub-topics as:

Lecture topics
  • Lecture topics for each day or week can help keep the instructor, as well as the students, focused and on-track.
Pre-class readings
  • List readings students are expected to have completed before class. Including a short summary, discussion questions, or sample problems can help students focus on key insights from the readings, and can help students to be more prepared for discussion, lecture, or lab.
Homework assignments
  • Consider distributing homework assignments via the weekly schedule in the syllabus, rather than as stand-alone sheets throughout the semester. This can help students understand what is expected of them, help them manage their workload across the semester, and ensure that they are aware of assignments despite missing class.
In-class tests
  • Note the dates, times, formats, and percent value of in-class tests, as well as policies on missed or make-up exams.
In-class activities
  • Activities that are clearly tied to the weekly topics can help students master material. Distributing instructions or assignments as part of the weekly schedule can help students understand what is expected of them, help them manage their workload across the semester, and ensure that they are aware of activities despite missing class.
Weekly learning goals
  • Many instructors build weekly or daily learning goals which function in concert with the overall course learning goals. Being explicit about these learning goals helps students understand the relevance of readings, lecture, assignments etc. to their overall learning.
Course instructor feedback policy
  • Set expectations for students about what sorts of feedback, on what time line, they should expect from you. It is also often useful to tell students how they can provide feedback about the course – for example, through the Student Instructional Rating Survey, or via in-class feedback mechanisms.

Additional Resources for Syllabus Design

Background and Rationale