Discover new ideas for crafting a great syllabus and learn about CSUN Faculty Senate's policies related to the course syllabus.
CSUN Syllabus Requirements
The formal CSUN Syllabus Policy was approved by Faculty Senate on March 5, 2015. There are 13 basic requirements that all CSUN syllabi must include such as:
- contact info,
- course description,
- main topics,
- evaluation methods (e.g., grading criteria, plus/minus system),
- due dates,
- revision date if modified,
- GE or IC outcomes (if applicable),
- available first class meeting,
- AND students can print from a single document.
Learning-Centered Syllabus Checklist
Imagine if your syllabus could be a tool to empower, motivate, and invite students into the learning process about your course instead of a document doling out all the work to be done, professor's rules to follow, and punishments for those who can't keep up.
A learning-centered syllabus is "characterized by engaging, question-driven course descriptions; long-ranging, multi-faceted learning goals; clear, measurable learning objectives; robust and transparent assessment and activity descriptions; detailed course schedules framed in what author Ken Bain (2004) calls "beautiful questions;" a focus on student success (Cullen & Harris, 2009; Palmer, Streifer & Bach, 2014); and, an inviting, approachable, and motivational tone" (Palmer, Wheeler & Aneece, 2016, p36).
Imagine if you emailed your syllabus to all your students before the first day and (1) they all read it and (2) they arrived the first day eagerly motivated to start learning!
The five parts of a learning centered syllabus includes:
- The learning goals & objectives are measurable & assures significant learning
- The assessments/assignment activities are transparent & aligned to course objectives
- There is an inclusive & promising learning environment that is inviting, supportive with high expectations & acceptance of difference (more ideas for inclusive teaching)
- There are dynamic activities using evidence based & active learning
- The schedule is motivational & logical
Checklist Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Learning Goals & Objectives
- Is the course description engaging and question-driven sparking student curiosity and motivation?
- Does it have long-range learning goals (i.e., what you want students to learn 1-5 years) that span Dee Fink’s (2004) taxonomy of significant learning (do you have objectives focusing on learning how to learn; or cultivating caring/passion about the content; or developing the human dimension)? Check out this video about Dee Fink's Taxonomy of Significant Learning.
- Are course-level learning objectives, also derived from Fink’s taxonomy, clearly articulated using specific measurable action verbs (avoiding the words know, understand, or demonstrate) regarding what students will be able to do, value, or explain at the end of the course? Check out the next drop down menu on Aligning Objectives, Assignments & Activities.
2. Assessment/Assignment Activities
- Are the assessments/assignments aligned or connected to each learning objective?
- Are assessments/ assignments especially summative ones, clearly defined & authentic when possible (e.g., real-life applications, observations, field experiences, signature assignments, portfolios, case studies, presentations)?
- Are all assignments transparently designed with a description that includes: the larger purpose of the assignment (e.g., what skills & knowledge used), the specific steps to be taken, and evaluation criteria including annotated examples?*
- Does it appear there will be frequent opportunities for low-stakes formative assessments with immediate feedback from a variety of sources (e.g., self reflection, peer feedback, and instructor)?
- Does it appear the instructor will use classroom assessment techniques (e.g., muddiest point) to gauge how students are mastering the material and will adjust accordingly?
- Are the assessments adequately paced and scaffold throughout the course with at least one scheduled early in the semester, making it possible to signal early alert messages?
- Is grading information transparently included so that students can easily understand & calculate their current grade throughout the course?*
- Does the grading scheme appear aligned with the learning objectives & assessments?
- Does it embed motivational hooks such as beautiful questions inviting students to use inquiry to navigate the course?
- Is the schedule transparent, easy for students to navigate (e.g., chronologically), and logically sequenced highlighting assignment due dates and weekly tasks (e.g., topics, readings, questions, homework)?
- Does it appear there will be time dedicated to getting to know each other (student-student and instructor-student) and co-construction of the class (e.g., community norms, course topics/assignments)?*
- Are procedures for making up assignments or missed work (e.g., due to religious holidays) included?*
4. Inclusive & Promising Learning Environment
- Is the language and tone respectful, inviting, and address the student as a competent & engaged learner?
- Does it signpost a learning environment that fosters positive intrinsic motivation, one that promotes a learning orientation instead of a performance one (i.e., avoids focusing on consequences, punishments & grade points)?
- Does the syllabus communicate high expectations for learning and project growth mindset confidence that students can meet them through persistence?
- Is there evidence the instructor will enthusiastically support & incorporate all learners’ backgrounds, identities, & viewpoints including when those differ from the instructor?*
- Does the content include alternative perspectives (e.g., readings, speakers, assignments) or present the content through non-dominant perspectives?*
- Are there indicators that the instructor uses inclusive pedagogical approaches (see CSUN’s Faculty Development Teaching Toolkit-Inclusive Teaching Ideas for specific examples)?*
- Is there encouragement to connect with the instructor about course content and to anonymously reveal classroom climate dynamics?*
- Overall, is the syllabus well-organized & easy to navigate allowing students to continually interact with the document?
5. Dynamic Activities
- Do the class activities appear to align with learning objectives; in other words, will the course activities aid students’ ability to be successful on course assessments/assignments leading to achievement of the learning objectives?
- Do class activities show promise to actively engage students in a variety of ways verses expecting students to passively listen (e.g., collaborative peer learning; group work; peer teaching; think-pair-share; jigsaw; 4-corners; team-based learning; problem-based learning; fishbowl; send-the-problem; reflection, etc.)?
- Will course activities foster a dynamic exchange of knowledge & discussion, including positioning students-as-experts/contributors/teachers, using evidence-based teaching practices?
O'Brien, Judith G, Barbara J. Millis, and Margaret W. Cohen. The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, 2008. Print.
Palmer, M. S., Bach, D. J. and Streifer, A. C. (2014), Measuring the Promise: A Learning-Focused Syllabus Rubric. To Improve the Academy, 33: 14–36. doi: 10.1002/tia2.20004
Cullen, Roxanne and Michael Harris. "Assessing Learner-Centredness through Course Syllabi." Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 34, no. 1, Feb. 2009, pp. 115-125. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/02602930801956018.
Aligning Objectives, Assignments & Activities
A well-designed course should intentionally thread the course learning objectives with assignments and the weekly activities. Course alignment results with deeper and more impactful student learning. However, when courses are built misaligned, students experience frustration, distrust and learning the content is inevitably not achieved.
Below is a useful tool to invite you to be a learning designer while keeping these three critical pillars of a course at the center of all course decisions.
Types of Significant Learning
Student Outcomes (SLOs)
What are your course objectives? List all of them below in the corresponding row/type of learning.
Can you avoid using these vague verbs in your SLOs: understand, know & appreciate?
Learning AssessmentsWhat are the key assignments that indicate if students have mastered that SLO?
Learning ActivitiesWhat are the student activities? How will you spend time each week (in class or online) ensuring students can be successful on each assignment?
1) Foundational KnowledgeLearners will understand and remember key concepts, terms, relationships, facts, etc. Describes what learners will be able to do with information.
Verbs for this type of learning: Choose, Define, Describe, Discriminate, Explain, Find, Generalize, Identify, Infer, Label, List, Match, Name, Outline, Paraphrase, Recall, Recite, Select, State
Learners will perform/”do” important tasks. Describes the kinds of activities and tasks learners will be able to perform based on the information they have acquired.
Verbs for this type of learning: Analyze, Assess, Calculate, Compute, Critique, Defend, Demonstrate, Design, Develop, Diagram, Distinguish, Illustrate, Infer, Justify, Manage, Modify, Organize, Outline, Prepare, Solve, Transfer, Use
Learners will identify/ consider/describe the relationship between "x" and "y". Describes the kinds of activities and tasks learners will be able to perform when they synthesize, link to, or relate specific information to other information.
Verbs for this type of learning: Align, Balance, Compare, Contrast, Identify (interactions, similarities between), Integrate, Organize, Step, Relate, Repeat, Support
4) Learning How to Learn
Students will develop the ability to learn better (more efficiently and effectively), both in this course and in life in general.
Verbs for this type of learning: Create, Decide, Define, Develop, Formulate, Select
5a) Human Dimension - Others
Learners will be able to interact positively and productively with others. Verbs for this type of learning: Act, Applaud, Argue, Attend, Control, Convince, Debate, Discern, Discuss, Display, Express, Follow, Hear, Help, Interact, Listen, Look, Participate, Notice, Organize, Share, Volunteer
5b) Human Dimension – Self
Learners will better understand themselves (strengths & growth areas) & how this impacts interactions with others.
Verbs for this type of learning: Act, Applaud, Argue, Attend, Control, Convince, Debate, Discern, Discuss, Display, Express, Follow, Hear, Help, Interact, Listen, Look, Participate, Notice, Organize, Share, Volunteer
6) Caring/ Passion for Field
Students will care more deeply about this subject or issues related to this subject. They will connect the information to themselves & personal lives with meaning.
Verbs for this type of learning: Act, Comply, Discern, Display, Express, Manage, Notice, Participate, Play, Practice, Share, Support, Value, Volunteer
Include these Optional Campus Resources
CSUN offers an array of student resources but unfortunately many students are unaware they exist, unclear how or where to find them, or may feel apprehensive to seek out help. But if you include these in your syllabus, you could make a huge difference!
- Food Pantry at CSUN: over half of our students are Pell grant eligible ~ their family's household income is $30,000 or less
- Emergency MataCare grants, one-time grants to prevent evictions, urgent child care issues, etc.
- University Counseling Center (Bayramian Hall 5th Floor)
- Help lines (after hours when the University Counseling is closed) for numerous topics/needs (e.g., suicide, drug, rape, LGBQT, military, or any crisis)
- Pride Center offers support and resources to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, & questioning students, faculty, & staff
- Learning Resource Center offers tutoring, a writing center, & more
- Campus computer labs
- To de-stress, invite students to our spa-like Oasis for relaxation or our Student Recreation Center (SRC)
- Disabilities Resource Educational Services (DRES), some students with disabilities aren't aware they can receive assistance
- Student Health Center
- Career Center for resume writing & interviewing
- USU for more student services
- Associated Students offers recycling, and a Children's Center
- Financial Aid & Scholarships offers aid for applications
- University Library for many additional academic resources
Did you know, the Office of Student Success Innovations recently held student focus groups and they learned that students wish professors would share more campus resources in the syllabus.
Other syllabus best practices
Trans-Inclusive Resources -- Want resources on how to make your syllabus and classroom environment trans-Inclusive, visit CSUN's Pride Center website and scroll down to Transgender Ally Resources for tips and recommendations.
Sexual Misconduct Disclosures -- Sample syllabus statements regarding sexual misconduct disclosures and maintaining a respectful learning environment.
Syllabus Components -- Academic First Year Experiences hosts a guide to best practices for the syllabus, including how to address office hours and class participation.
What Others are Saying about "The Syllabus"
- Cal Poly San Luis Obispo -- they use Ken Bain's, What the Best College Teacher's Do... a syllabus has 3 parts
- Fresno State-- Syllabus quiz
- Cal State Dominguez Hills-- Assessment Resources & Tools (including syllabus frameworks and templates)
- Humboldt State-- Syllabus help
- Cal State Long Beach-- Teaching Jumpstart
- Cal State LA -- The Syllabus
- Cal State Monterey Bay--Syllabus Guidelines
- San Diego State University-- Effective Practices
- San Francisco State-- The Helpful Syllabus
- San Jose State University -- Developing Your Curriculum and Course Syllabus
- Cal State University San Marcos -- Designing a Syllabus
- Self-Paced Online Modules to redesign your syllabus -- Illinois State University
- Constructing a Syllabus -- DePaul University
- Writing a Syllabus -- Cornell University
- Best Practices for Learning-Centered Syllabus -- University of West Florida
- Course Planning and Syllabi -- Washington State University