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On the First ... A Syllabus in a Nut Shell

It’s that time of year again. Time to publish the syllabus. OK, fess up, how many of you are thinking "I’ll stick in the new dates and I'm good to go." But remember, your syllabus is the course map. It should provide students with all the guiding information to succeed in the course.

Let’s examine the essential and perhaps not so essential components of a syllabus.

Title: Essential. This may prevent students from asking, "What’s the name of this course?" when filling out their final course evaluations.

Course Description: Essential. The course description, within the catalog, is the student’s primary guide to course content during academic advising. It’s like the two-page US map in the front of the Rand McNally: it’s an indispensable snapshot of the full journey.

Suggested Audience: Not so essential. Well... non-essential when the bulk of the courses in a program are required and delivered in sequence. It is informative for elective courses and is useful in general studies programs.

Pre-requisite Courses and Co-requisite Courses: Ditto.

Course Competencies: Essential. Course competencies should bridge program goals and behavioral objectives. State each course competency, followed by its subordinate behavioral objectives, and refer to the program goal it satisfies. Accreditors love that stuff.

Behavioral Objectives: Essential. Behavioral objectives are, without a doubt, the most important item in the syllabus. Remember, you are the expert. You know what is important. You must give your students that information too. Writing good objectives is so important that it will be covered for the next few months in this yearlong educational measurement series.

Course Outline/Schedule: Essential. Publishing a schedule that includes testing dates is crucial for the sanity of your students and yourself. During the Block, document any changes that occur in the schedule so you can alter it for the next time you teach the course.

Instructional Resources/Learner Activities: Essential. I include everything from required and recommended texts to Internet sites.

Evaluation: Essential. In this section, outline your grading policy for the course. Remember that grading must be equitable so if you spend one fifth of the Block on renal physiology, then the student’s renal physiology grade should comprise twenty percent of the final grade.

Attendance Requirements: Essential. Students should be made aware of any attendance requirements. It’s also a good idea to inform them of the consequences if they fail to meet those requirements.

Safety Considerations: Essential. If there are any special issues that relate to a course, it is critical to describe safe practices.

Faculty Information: Essential. When I was naive, I gave out my home phone number. The only people who called me at home were the procrastinators. Students will, however, need your office contact information - include office hours if you keep them.

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