3. Course Policies

How do you want your syllabus to sound?

When planning your syllabus, in addition to considering what information to make available to students, also spend some time considering what tone is being established for the course.

Does the syllabus speak like a letter to the students? Does it create a space for building a shared community of learning? What relationship does it establish between faculty and students? Is it focused more on the content or on the learning? Is it serious or light-hearted? welcoming or stern?

Sharing the syllabus with a peer or someone outside of teaching can help provide feedback on tone.

Role of Policies

What policies are included communicates what is important to the classroom culture. They set the expectations for learning and engagement. If something is so important that it needs to be enforced or may need mediation by your chair or dean, clarity is key. Matt Reed shares his perspective as a dean on why clarity is important to his work.

As always, start from the guidance and expectations from the Provost’s Office.
Below is a list of areas to consider for a syllabus. The modality of the course also informs which policies may be most important.

All Syllabi

Attendance: What does “showing up” mean for this class and this modality? Highlight the benefits and think closely about what penalties for non-attendance communicates.

Civility: Are there expectations about how students interact? Is this something to develop as a class? Are there potentially difficult topics that students may want to know are coming up?

Late Work & Flexibility: What are the roles and functions of deadlines for submitting work? What are the opportunities for revision and/or recovery from missed deadlines?

Academic Honesty: What does academic honesty mean in the discipline of the course? Different disciplines have different practices and expectations regarding collaboration, adaptation, and repurposing. What resources would support students deepening their understanding of this important and nuanced topic?


Engagement expectations: Often called participation, are there specific ways students will be expected to contribute to the course learning community? Are there various options for contributions? James Lang shares some options and perspectives in his recent Chronicle article.


Communication: In what ways can students ask questions and contact the instructor? When can they reasonably expect a response? Is there a course space (e.g., Q&A discussion) to post questions? Is email, text, or phone better? How can they schedule a phone or Zoom conversation?

Engagement expectations: Student engagement in an online class is often a core part of building community and collaborative learning online – and can vary significantly between courses in approach and purpose. Where and how will students be expected to be active learners and for what purpose?