Creating a Brown University Syllabus

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. For specific suggestions and Brown examples about ways to develop a learner-centered syllabus, please see this Sheridan newsletter on Invitational Syllabi.

Please note that these are new/revised optional syllabus statements for AY20-21:

Hybrid Course Meetings During AY20-21
For students meeting in-person in a hybrid course, please remember that you signed an attestation that you will follow required public health practices. These practices include wearing a face mask at all times in university facilities, maintaining social distancing from others, and refraining from eating during class. If you do not have a mask, I will ask you to leave so that you can retrieve one before rejoining class. Disregard of these practices is a Student Code of Conduct violation that could result in removal from campus. Please note that instructors are required to abide by the same guidelines, and I look forward to working with you together this term to keep our community safe and healthy.

Books, Supplies, and Materials 
If your Brown undergraduate financial aid package includes the Book/Course Material Support Pilot Program (BCMS), concerns or questions about the cost of books and course materials for this or any other Brown course (including RISD courses via cross-registration) can be addressed to [email protected]. For all other concerns related to non-tuition course-related expenses, whether or not your Brown undergraduate financial aid package includes BCMS, please visit the Academic Emergency Fund in E-GAP (within the umbrella of "E-Gap Funds" in UFunds) to determine options for financing these costs, while ensuring your privacy.

Class Recording and Distribution of Course Materials
I would like to record our discussion because some students may be in different time zones, have poor internet connections, or have health issues. This means that we will record all classes to make them available to all students that are enrolled but cannot be present. If you have questions or concerns about this protocol, please contact me so that we can talk through those to also ensure your full participation in this course.

Lectures and other course materials are copyrighted. Students are prohibited from reproducing, making copies, publicly displaying, selling, or otherwise distributing the recordings or transcripts of the materials. The only exception is that students with disabilities may have the right to record for their private use if that method is determined to be a reasonable accommodation by Student Accessibility Services. Disregard of the University's copyright policy and federal copyright law is a Student Code of Conduct violation.

Use of Technology to Support Your Learning in This Course
This course will use the following technological platforms: [Google Drive, Canvas, Piazza, etc.].
I am committed to ensuring access to online course resources by students. If you have any concerns or questions about access or the privacy of any of these platforms, please reach out to me.
The IT Service Center (https://it.brown.edu/get-help) provides many IT Services including remote assistance, phones, tickets, and chat. Please also see the Online and Hybrid Learning Student Guide.

Sample Brown University Syllabi

Undergraduate Courses Graduate Courses
ENGL1030A: The Thoughtful Generalist (fully online) POLS 2210: Governing Federated Systems
BIOL 092A/SCSO 0700A: Re-thinking Controversies in Medicine and Public Health PHP 1510/2510: Principles of Biostatistics and Data Analysis
NEUR 1040: Introduction to Neurogenetics ENGN 2991: Characterizing Nanomaterial Structure
MES 1999E: Displacement and Refugees in the Middle East (a GELT Program class) SYR 2710: Babylonian Astronomy
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 Information

  • Course title and number
  • Meeting times
  • Classroom location
  • Website URL, use of Canvas
  • Prerequisites

Instructor Information

  • First and last name with title
  • Office location and hours
  • Preferred contact (e.g., phone number, email address)

Course Description

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).

Course Goals

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
Writing Requirement

If a course has been approved to fulfill the writing requirement, the syllabus should indicate a statement such as the following:

Because 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.

Academic Support

Accessibility and Accommodations Statement

All Brown syllabi should include the following statement, to enable all students' full participation in your class:

Accessibility and Accommodations Statement 
Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students. Please inform me early in the term if you may require accommodations or modification of any of course procedures. You may speak with me after class, during office hours, or by appointment. If you need accommodations around online learning or in classroom accommodations, please be sure to reach out to Student Accessibility Services (SAS) for their assistance ([email protected], 401-863-9588). Undergraduates in need of short-term academic advice or support can contact an academic dean in the College by emailing [email protected]. Graduate students may contact one of the deans in the Graduate School by emailing [email protected].

Campus resources

You may wish to list other Brown learning support resources, to support the diversity of student learners in your class. Student Support Services Deans can be a helpful resource to discuss personal, family or health-related concerns, as well as a potential academic and personal plan.  They are available for same-day consult and/or scheduled appointment. A list of other resources can be found here.

Inclusion

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 International and Multilingual Students is below:

Multilingual Students

“Brown welcomes students from around the country and the world, and their unique perspectives enrich our learning community.  To support students whose primary language is not English, an array of  English support services are available on campus including language and culture workshops and individual appointments. For more information, contact [email protected] or (401) 863-5672.”

 

Course Materials

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, required language to address concerns about expenses is the following:

Books, Supplies, and Materials
If your Brown undergraduate financial aid package includes the Book/Course Material Support Pilot Program (BCMS), concerns or questions about the cost of books and course materials for this or any other Brown course (including RISD courses via cross-registration) can be addressed to [email protected]. For all other concerns related to non-tuition course-related expenses, whether or not your Brown undergraduate financial aid package includes BCMS, please visit the Academic Emergency Fund in E-GAP (within the umbrella of "E-Gap Funds" in UFunds) to determine options for financing these costs, while ensuring your privacy.

Electronic Resources
Supplementary Readings

Assessment

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
Class participation

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)
Lab safety/health
Academic integrity

For undergraduate students, a concise statement to emphasize the importance of academic integrity 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.

Course Calendar/Outline

  • 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.