The course syllabus is the primary document through which you communicate to students your course goals, expectations, and assessment/evaluation criteria. Research on teaching and learning has consistently shown that communicating in detail about these aspects of your course -- at the beginning and throughout the term, through both a written syllabus and verbal explanations -- helps students succeed and can help you avoid misunderstandings and grade challenges later in the term. In addition to clarity of expectations, a welcoming tone is important to help communicate the positive learning environment you want to create in your course.
Please note that the Dean of the College and the Provost's Office have issued new guidelines for Brown syllabi, effective August 2016. Please see the Provost's Office guidelines, staff available to offer guidance, and explanations of new elements in italics below.
Sample Brown University Syllabi
- BIOL 092A/SCSO 0700A: Re-thinking Controversies in Medicine and Public Health
- NEUR 1040: Introduction to Neurogenetics
- MES 1999E: Displacement and Refugees in the Middle East (a GELT Program class)
- ENGN 1510: Nanoengineering and Nanomedicine
- POLS 1824: The Politics of Race and the Criminal Justice System (a WRIT course)
Basic elements of a Brown University syllabus include:
- Course title and number
- Meeting times
- Classroom location
- Website URL, use of Canvas
- First and last name with title
- Office location and hours
- Preferred contact (e.g., phone number, email address)
General Orientation to the Course
Note: Use the course description to provide a brief introduction to the course and clarify the broad appeal of your course to students. Think about why your course might be broadly appealing or relevant to a student's future education, career, goals, or personal growth. Some instructors do this by beginning their course descriptions with major themes or big questions (Bain, 2004).
Note: Learning goals are the intended purposes and desired achievements of a particular course, which generally identify the knowledge, skills, and capacities you hope a student will achieve. All Brown syllabi must identify goals that are in alignment with the in- and out-of-class learning activities required of the class.
Learning Activities, Assessments, and Allocation
All Brown syllabi must identify all work required or recommended of students in class (e.g., lecture, lab, discussion, studio work) and out-of-class (e.g., reading, problem sets, research project, papers, field trip, artistic or creative work), with a reasonable estimation of time needed to complete them. Time estimated to complete activities and assessments should total 180 hours over the 15-week term -- or, on average, 12 hours per week.
Possible approaches to estimating this time include:
- making a reasonable estimate yourself. Rice University's Center for Teaching Excellence has compiled a research-based estimator for reading- and writing-related assignments, which can serve as a useful starting point for some classes.
- completing the task (e.g., reading a journal article) yourself and assuming that students will require 3-4 times as long to complete it (Carnegie Mellon's Eberly Center for Teaching and Learning).
- gathering feedback from students on how long it takes them to complete various components of the course.
Prerequisites, if applicable
If a course has been approved to fulfill the writing requirement, the syllabus should indicate a statement such as the following:
As this is a WRIT-designated course, you will be required to complete a minimum of two written assignments. You will receive substantive feedback on your writing, which you will use to help you revise your work or to complete subsequent writing assignments.
Accessibility and Accommodations Statement
All Brown syllabi should include the following statement, to enable all students' full participation in your class:
Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students. Please inform me early in the term if you have a disability or other conditions that might require accommodations or modification of any of these course procedures. You may speak with me after class or during office hours. For more information, please contact Student and Employee Accessibility Services at 401-863-9588 or SEAS@brown.edu. Students in need of short-term academic advice or support can contact one of the deans in the Dean of the College office.
You may wish to list other Brown learning support resources, to support the diversity of student learners in your class. A list can be found here.
Some instructors add diversity and inclusion statements to create an invitational tone, signal that difference in intellectual exchange is valued, or communicate awareness of current campus conversations surrounding diversity. Multiple examples can be found here, and a statement specifically aimed at inclusion for English Language Learners is below:
English Language Learners
Brown University welcomes students from around the country and the world, and the unique perspectives international and multilingual students bring enrich the campus community. To empower multilingual learners, an array of support is available including language and culture workshops and individual appointments. For more information about English Language Learning support at Brown, contact the ELL Specialists at email@example.com.
Books, supplies, and materials
Syllabi must list the estimated cost of required learning resources (per the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act).
- For undergraduate course syllabi, recommended language to address concerns about expenses is the following:
Expenses and Financial Concerns
Brown University undergraduates with concerns about the non-tuition cost(s) of a course at Brown, including this course, may apply to the Dean of the College Academic Emergency Fund to determine options for financing these costs, while ensuring their privacy. The fund can be found in the Emergency Funds, Curricular & Co-curricular Gap (E-Gap) Funds in UFunds. Information and procedures are available at this link: https://www.brown.edu/academics/college/advising/financial-advising/e-ga....
Method by which students will be evaluated and receive feedback on their learning.
- What types of assessment--papers, presentations, problem sets, projects, exams, etc.
- How will the final grade be determined, and in particular, what will be the weight given to each assessment?
- If a relatively large percentage of the final grade is devoted to a final "course paper," or project then the syllabus should typically indicate interim assessments or feedback opportunities a student can expect on the paper or project during the course of the semester.
- Sheridan resources on feedback, grading, and assessments can be found here.
Instructors are expected to make reasonable accommodations for students who cannot take a quiz or exam, including final exams, on the scheduled date due to a religious observance. It is helpful to include notification of this policy on the syllabus because students must inform instructors of any conflicts within the first four weeks of the semester, or as soon as possible after the exam date is announced (whichever is earliest).
Expectations of Students
Attendance and lateness
If participation is greater than 15% of the final grade (20% for graduate-level courses), the syllabus should describe how the assessment is determined. This could be in the form of a rubric or general guidelines for what constitutes exemplary, acceptable, and non-acceptable participation. While desirable in all cases, if participation constitutes 15% or less of the final grade for undergraduates (20% for graduate-level courses), the syllabus need not detail this information. Suggestions for assessment of participation can be found here.
Missed exams or assignments (including late assignments)
For undergraduate students, a concise statement to emphasize the importance of academic honesty is a useful addition to the syllabus:
"A student’s name on any exercise (e.g., a theme, report, notebook, performance, computer program, course paper, quiz, or examination) is regarded as assurance that the exercise is the result of the student’s own thoughts and study, stated in his or her own words, and produced without assistance, except as quotation marks, references, and footnotes acknowledge the use of printed sources or other outside help." (Academic Code, p. 5)
For graduate students, please see the Academic Code, Graduate Student edition.
Guidelines for discussion
Especially in discussion-based classrooms, syllabus statements that help establish expectations can be useful to help create an atmosphere of mutual respect and collective inquiry.
- Daily/weekly schedule
- Due dates for drafts and major assignments
- Dates for quizzes, tests, exams, and required special events
These headings have been adapted from Howard B. Altman and William E. Cashin, "Writing a Syllabus," IDEA Paper No. 27.