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The Effective Syllabus

Engaging students and communicating content.

What is an Effective Syllabus?

An effective syllabus is one that clearly outlines a student’s path to success in any course. The syllabus is often both the introduction to a course and its backbone, returned to continuously by instructors and students for guidance. The traditional syllabus has evolved from a short page describing the schedule and grading policy to a complete framework that helps students understand how to interact with your course in the most successful way possible. It also orients students to the participatory features and expectations of the course.

It also serves as a document that can outline services that students may reference if they need additional assistance, such as disability accomodations as well as other institutional policies.

Syllabus drawing with graphics

How Can I Use This in  My Course?


UAF’s Faculty Senate has established syllabus requirements for all courses as well as helpful checklists and examples. eCampus offers the eSyllabus, a template that includes all the Faculty Senate requirements as well as a section on “Student Effort,” which was developed for  online courses.

Course Calendar:

UAF requires that a schedule of class topics and assignments (with due dates) be included in the syllabus. The schedule helps students navigate the course materials, assignments, and expectations. Think of it as a map and try to make it as readable as possible. Limit yourself to one page for easy reference and be specific (e.g. rather than list “labs,”  give each lab a title that describes its content).

Schedule Help:

  1. Single Page Template
  2. Unit Schedule Template #1
  3. Unit Schedule Template #2
  4. Course Schedule Checklist
Evaluation Policies:

Policies regarding how you evaluate students in your course are required elements of your syllabus as well. Clearly communicate your policies on grading student work, accepting late work, and tabulating final scores. Explain how you will use points, percentages, weights, and/or letter grades in your grading scheme. Provide information regarding university policies on withdrawals, incompletes, and no-basis grades.

Student Effort (for online courses):

The UAF Faculty Senate has determined that one credit hour [of non-laboratory instruction] represents “800 minutes of lecture (plus 1600 minutes of study),’ which, for the standard 14-week semester, equates to a minimum of 1 hour of lecture (instruction) + 2 hours of study per credit hour.

Because we want all student activity to be meaningful, UAF eCampus asks instructors to further document where student effort goes by percentage of effort into four categories that expand on the simple lecture/study ratio. These categories will demonstrate how the student will be spending their required time in the course.   The four categories are:

  1. Instruction (minimum 33%: things like lectures, readings, teacher-student conferences)
  2. Individual Research (individual research for papers, projects)
  3. Assignments (actual projects and assessments)
  4. Collaboration (discussion, groups projects, blog commenting)


  1. Instruction: Lecture/Readings 35%
  2. Individual Research: Final project 10%
  3. Assignments: Quizzes, Homework, Blog posts  35%
  4. Collaboration: Discussion Board, Blog comments 20%

You may choose not to publish this information to your students, however, it is a necessary element to think about in the course development stage.

Helpful Additions:

Getting Started

Particularly for eCampus courses, it’s helpful to give students specific instructions on how to get started: where to go, what to look for, what to do first. Some students might not click around the course so giving direction up front will get them started.

Submitting Assignments

Include guidelines for submitting assignments. What types of files are acceptable? Do you have file naming conventions? Should students submit on Blackboard? Google Drive? A class blog?  Be specific  and be prepared to guide students through the submission process.

Pacing Expectations

Particularly for eCampus courses, let students know how you expect them to move through the course.  Do you have weekly deadlines? Are there any big projects or deadlines worth highlighting?

Response Time and Feedback

Clarify your policies on response time and feedback to students as part of your course policies. Set expectations for students by providing a specific window of time they can expect to hear back from you concerning email communications. Feedback on class assignments will likely be more time consuming, so clarify when you will be grading and when students should expect feedback on their coursework.

Proctored Exams

eCampus offers proctoring for exams in eCampus courses.  If your course includes a proctored exam, tell  students  in your syllabus and let them  know how to take the exam if they are in Fairbanks or elsewhere, which involves designating a proctor.

Technologies and Technology Support

If students are expected to use particular technologies in your course, provide links to where students can find those technologies. Include links to support services for these technologies when they are available.  Outline any technical specifications for required software (Windows and Mac OS) or hardware.

If you are using 3rd-party tools in your course, provide links to support resources such as tutorials, accessibility information, and privacy policies.

Syllabus drawing with graphics

Questions and Considerations

Can I create a syllabus that is effective and engaging for my students, but also fulfills the requirements my department and others set for syllabi?  A syllabus is a complex document, serving multiple purposes as well as multiple audiences.  One way of accommodating this complexity is to create multiple documents — one syllabus that looks like the traditional, black-and-white text document with all the headings required by Faculty Senate, and another that includes all the same information in a different format and voice for students. You might also decide to keep the traditional  information, but shift your form to include more images and opportunities for interactivity.

Your syllabus is one of the first communications you’ll have with your students. You have the opportunity to set a tone — make sure it is reflective of the relationship you hope to maintain with them.


There are a number of tools that you might use to build a dynamic syllabus, including:

In Practice

A syllabus is no good if no one’s reading it. Being specific, succinct, and organized are the first steps to readability, but design matters too. Check out the examples below for creatively designed and organized syllabi:

Research Foundations

The Illustrated Syllabus

UAF Instructional Designers

This page has been authored collectively by the experts on the UAF Instructional Design Team. Let us know if you have suggestions or corrections!

Instructional Design Team, UAF eCampus