Faculty Development

Syllabus ideas and policies

**This page is from an old version of CSUN's Teaching Toolkit. Find an updated version on the current Teaching Toolkit on Canvas.**


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,
  • objectives/outcomes,
  • 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 & Samples

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: 

  1. The learning goals & objectives are measurable & assures significant learning
  2. The assessments/assignment activities are transparent & aligned to course objectives
  3. There is an inclusive & promising learning environment that is inviting, supportive with high expectations & acceptance of difference (more ideas for inclusive teaching)
  4. There are dynamic activities using evidence based & active learning 
  5. 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?

3. Schedule

  • 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?

 Sample Syllabi

Curious to look at syllabi created by faculty who learned about these five areas and redesigned their syllabus? The Center for Teaching Excellence where the authors of this framework originates (UVA) showcases highly rated syllabi across multiple disciplines. You can learn more about the empirically validated scoring rubric used to evaluate syllabi in the Palmer et al article listed below.


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 Assessments

What are the key assignments that indicate if students have mastered that SLO?

Learning Activities

What 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 Knowledge

Learners 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


2) Application

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


3) Integration

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. How do you communicate all these resources to students without overwhelming them? You might include this list in your syllabus or in your Canvas materials with a personalized and short explanation of what's offered.

Other times we find ourselves in a situation with a student that needs the kind of help and support we are not uniquely trained or qualified for. But who is qualified? Work towards getting to know the real humans in these offices/centers so that your welcoming-handoff can connect students to people, not offices (Luke Wood, 2020). So instead of saying to a student, “Our University Counseling Center is great, go check it out” work towards being able to say, “I know Paulette at the University Counseling Center, she’s great and I think she might be someone for you to connect with.”

 Example block you could include in your syllabus; please be sure to check each link as these resource website often change (last updated 2019).

Most of us, at some point, need a little help. These resources are for students; don't miss out before you graduate!


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.

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