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Syllabus Best Practices

An A-Z Collection from Academic First Year Experiences and Faculty Development

Ink pen and lined paper.

Undergraduate Studies supports excellence in teaching, learning, and community engagement for CSUN faculty, staff, and students. To that end, CSUN’s Faculty Development and Academic First Year Experiences are collaborating to offer CSUN faculty examples of syllabus best practices. We invite you to share your additional ideas for a great syllabus on our blog, CSUN Syllabus Blog: Best Practice Submissions

And for the record, your syllabus is definitively yours. It's your intellectual property. You'll have your own ways of communicating with students. If you don't like the sample language here, don't use it. This website won't be offended.

Your syllabus: the basics and some sample language A-Z

Start by reading the brief CSUN Syllabus Policy (updated 3/17/15), which sets minimum requirements for your syllabus. Then check out the additional topics and sample wording from the list below. 


If you (as faculty) miss a class, notify your chair (or the appropriate staff member in your department) and your students. When you can provide advance notification, everybody appreciates it. When you can't, everybody understands.

Academic honesty

One of the most important steps in cultivating a course environment of academic integrity is by explicitly communicating your expectations for honesty. Include a section on your syllabus reminding students of the CSUN Student Conduct Code. Spell out the consequences you plan to impose if you find students acting without integrity. Consider stating your expectations for each major assignment throughout the semester (e.g., exams, papers, & group projects). Some faculty ask that students sign contracts or pledges. 

For more information (e.g., how to prevent dishonesty & how to respond when students do cheat) and to see sample syllabi, visit the Faculty Development Teaching Toolkit and/or this resource page from an  Academic Honesty workshop (jointly sponsored by Academic First Year Experiences and Faculty Development in Oct. 2015). 


Attendance policies

On your syllabus, tell your students how you plan to handle their absences: will you take away points after a certain number of absences? Or will you give participation points for students who are present? Put it in writing.

CSUN has a two-paragraph policy governing attendance:

  1. Students are expected to attend all class meetings. Students who are absent from the first 2 meetings of a class that meets more than once a week or from the first meeting of a class that meets once a week lose the right to remain on the class roll and must formally withdraw from the class, following University procedures and deadlines. Failure to formally withdraw from a class will result in the instructor assigning to the student a grade of “WU” (Unauthorized Withdrawal), which, in computing a student’s GPA, counts as a grade of “F.”
  2. In a compressed term or session of fewer than 15 weeks, the rule applies if the first class meeting is missed. An instructor may allow a student to continue in the class if the student notified the instructor that the absence would be temporary. If no instructor was assigned to the course in advance, students must notify the Department Chair that their absence from the class will be temporary.

CSUN also has a Policy on Missed Classes Due to Participation in University-Approved Activities. Participation on CSUN sports teams is definitely included here. Key points of the policy:

When representing the university in official curriculum-related, university-approved activities requires a student to miss classes, faculty are expected to provide, within reason, opportunity to make up any work or exams that are missed.

Absence from class for official curriculum-related, university-approved activities does not relieve students from responsibility for any part of the course work required during the period of absence.

Canvas: CSUN's Online Learning Management System

If you choose to use Canvas, take advantage of the CSUN's very helpful technology classes and resources (including unlimited access to for students AND faculty).

A best practice: in addition to the default Announcements feature that is part of every Canvas course, consider adding a discussion forum (title it "Got Questions?") so students can ask AND ANSWER course-related questions (such as: "What is the new date for the midterm? I thought I wrote it down but I can't find it!" or "Are we supposed to bring our drafts to class this week or next?" etc. etc.). Also consider adding an informal discussion forum (title it "Canvas Cafe") and invite students to communicate informally--about a movie they saw and loved, or their intention of going to CSUN's Big Show, or the existence of free Associated Students academic planners available during the first week of classes while supplies last.....)

Cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices

If you have strong and/or definite feelings about students using cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices during your class, state your policy in your syllabus.

Classmate contact information

Consider including two blank lines on your syllabus near the top of page one. Ask students to get basic contact information from two classmates (such as email address or phone number) so they can call on these classmates for help in case they miss a meeting or have a simple question.

Contact information for you

Include your name, office location, office hours, email address, CSUN phone extension.

If you have a policy about your usual time frame for responding to student emails, you might want to state it. (Help students understand whether you will respond immediately, or within 24 hours, or before the next class meeting, or whatever seems appropriate to you.  Do not promise more than you can deliver, of course.)

Inform students if you are willing to be contacted by them in other ways outside of class (for instance via video conferencing, discussion forums, wikis, online chat, document sharing, cloud file storage, social media.)

Course description

Include the course description in your syllabus. You can find the official course description in CSUN's online catalog. You will likely have additional information. Help students understand what lies ahead: tell them.

Course name, number, meeting times, and room

Go ahead and include this information for the record as well. Course requirements and methods of evaluation List the assignments and how many points (and/or what percentage) each contributes to the total grade. State your grading criteria.

DRES sample statement: accommodating students with disabilities

If you have a disability and need accommodations, please register with the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) office or the National Center on Deafness (NCOD). The DRES office is located in Bayramian Hall, room 110 and can be reached at 818.677.2684. NCOD is located on Bertrand Street in Jeanne Chisholm Hall and can be reached at 818.677.2611. If you would like to discuss your need for accommodations with me, please contact me to set up an appointment.

General Education course goals

Information competence (IC) designation

If your class carries the information competence (IC) designation in the catalog, your syllabus should include the IC SLOs and your course should enable students to meet those SLOs.

Goal: Students will progressively develop information competence skills throughout their undergraduate career by developing a basic understanding of information retrieval tools and practices as well as improving their ability to evaluate and synthesize information ethically.

Information Competence (IC) Student Learning Outcomes: students will

  1. Determine the nature and extent of information needed;
  2. Demonstrate effective search strategies for finding information using a variety of sources and methods;
  3. Locate, retrieve, and evaluate a variety of relevant information including print and electronic formats;
  4. Organize and synthesize information in order to communicate effectively;
  5. Explain the legal and ethical dimensions of the use of information.

(The IC goal and SLOs come from where they are listed as item #11 under "General Education: University GE SLOs.")

LRC: the Learning Resource Center

Students can get free help on campus at the LRC, including

  • tutoring in multiple subjects,
  • one-on-one help with writing and grammar, and
  • reading and writing workshops 

The LRC offers sample language you can include in your syllabus on their Faculty Resources page at

myCSUNtablet classes

Lindsay Hansen (Oviatt Library) has assembled a wonderful collection of syllabus and teaching tips for faculty participating in the myCSUNtablet initiative. With her permission, here it is: Tips and Tricks for developing a syllabus for an iPad class.

Office hours

Article 20 of the Unit 3 faculty contract requires that we keep office hours. And you will of course include the time and location for your hours in your syllabus.

At CSUN, there is no campus-wide policy on how many hours to offer each week. Some of the academic colleges have their own policies; others do not. Talk to your chair or the associate dean of your college about what is required of you.

If you need to cancel your office hours on a particular day, notify the staff in your department office. If you are teaching an online or hybrid class (designated OF, OC, or OH in the Schedule of Classes), consult your chair about virtual office hours. (Also see the Online and Hybrid Courses Policy.)

Online, hybrid, and myCSUNtablet classes

Online classes: This course meets online. Before you enroll, take CSUN's Student Online Readiness Survey to see whether your learning preferences and technology skills are likely to help you succeed as an online learner. Not sure if your course will be Online? Check the "notes" in SOLAR Class Search for more information or take a look at the new course designations for hybrid and online classes.

Hybrid classes: This course meets partly online. Before you enroll, take CSUN's Student Online Readiness Survey to see whether your learning preferences and technology skills are likely to help you succeed as an online learner. Not sure if your course will be Hybrid or Online? Check the "notes" in SOLAR Class Search for more information or take a look at the new course designations for hybrid and online classes.

myCSUNtablet classes: This is a myCSUNtablet class. To participate in this class, you must brin an iPad or iPad mini running iOS 6 or higher with a minimum of 32 GB storage. If you don't already own an iPad or iPad mini, you can purchase one at the Matador Bookstore or at the Apple Store.


[Say something about your requirements or wishes for student participation. Share your expectations.]

Plus/Minus Grading

I will/will not use plus/minus grading in this course.

Questions from students

If you have questions about the course or this syllabus, ask me during office hours or by email. My email is and I will try to respond to you within xxxxx hours/days.

Required materials and texts

You are responsible for acquiring the following required readings for this course. [I have placed a copy on reserve in Oviatt Library.]

Savings clause: "this syllabus is subject to change...."

This syllabus is subject to change. I will make every effort to notify you in advance about any changes.

Service learning classes

CSUN's Office of Community Engagement has developed a thorough set of "Helpful Hints for Creating a Service Learning Syllabus." The document recommends among other things that you "Create and distribute a syllabus that clearly explains or defines the service learning goals, objectives, criteria, and requirements" and that you "include the official campus definition of Service Learning" (which is part of the Helpful Hints document). (Download the "Helpful Hints" file now or go to the Community Engagement faculty website and choose "Creating a SL Syllabus" from the list of Forms and Downloads.)

Title IX: Sexual Misconduct Disclosures/Maintaining a Respectful Learning Environment

CSUN's Office of Equity & Diversity has provided two sample statements you can use to help students understand how our campus handles Title IX issues and the role that the Office of Equity & Diversity expects faculty to play. Equity & Diversity recognizes that "the statements are rather lengthy - of course faculty can adopt and customize the language in ways suitable to their teaching styles, but the core of information should be there including the responsibility of faculty to share such info with the Title IX Coordinator and students can seek confidential support with our Campus Care Advocate." 

Writing-intensive General Education courses (all upper-division GE courses)

If your class carries the Writing-Intensive (W) designation in the catalog, your syllabus should include the Writing-Intensive SLOs and your course should enable students to meet those SLOs.

Goal: Students will develop their abilities to express themselves and the knowledge they have obtained through practicing various forms of writing within different disciplinary contexts. Writing intensive courses will build upon the skills gained in the Analytical Reading and Expository Writing section of Basic Skills. In each WI course students will be required to complete writing assignments totaling a minimum of 2500 words.

Writing-Intensive Student Learning Outcomes: students will

  1. Develop and clearly define their ideas through writing;
  2. Ethically integrate sources of various kinds into their writing;
  3. Compose texts through drafting, revising, and completing a finished product;
  4. Express themselves through their writing by posing questions, making original claims, and coherently structuring complex ideas;
  5. Revise their writing for greater cogency and clarity;
  6. Utilize adopted communication modes and documentation styles of specific disciplines (MLA, APA, Chicago, CBE, etc) where appropriate.

(The Writing-intensive goal and SLOs come from where they are listed as item #12 under "General Education: University GE SLOs.")