Updates for your Syllabus: Academic Year 2022-2023
As we get ready for a new academic year, the Eberly Center brings you the following information to consider while preparing your new syllabi:
(1) New elements to include in your syllabus;
(2) Highlights and updates on other important syllabus elements; and
(3) Overall considerations when creating your syllabus.
For each syllabus element discussed below, you will find:
- a description of the issue and related considerations,
- questions to guide your thinking on new or revised policies that account for this semester’s circumstances, and
- sample language that you may adopt, adapt, or use as inspiration.
In addition to the updated syllabus elements below, see our "regular" syllabus checklist page, and/or email email@example.com if you would like to discuss your syllabus or other course-planning issues with a teaching or technology consultant.
New elements to include in your syllabus
The following entries are recent additions to the syllabus language adopted in the last few years. We are highlighting them to help you craft your most up-to date syllabus.
We encourage you to consider adding a paragraph about resources for students experiencing food insecurity. This is particularly relevant as the current context has led more students to experience financial hardship.
If you are worried about affording food or feeling insecure about food, there are resources on campus that can help. Email the CMU Food Pantry Coordinator to schedule an appointment:
412-268-8704 (SLICE office)
You might previously have included resources from the Global Communication Center or the Intercultural Communication Center. The work of these centers is now included in the overall purview of the Student Academic Success Center (SASC). Consider updating your syllabus language or including new resources from the Student Academic Success Center (SASC) in your syllabus.
Rather than including all samples found below, we recommend referencing the programs most relevant to your students. Ask yourself:
- Is the specific resource relevant to your students? For example, would targeted tutoring help your students, or would your students benefit from broader academic success support?
- Does the SASC target a central area of the course (e.g., communication skill development) such that you would want to highlight that SASC resource?
- Is your course a historically difficult course such that supplemental instruction is offered through SASC and could be highlighted on your syllabus?
SASC programs to support student learning include the following (program titles link to webpages):
- Academic Coaching – This program provides holistic, one-on-one peer support and group workshops to help undergraduate and graduate students implement habits for success. Academic Coaching assists students with time management, productive learning and study habits, organization, stress management, and other skills. Request an initial consultation here.
- Peer Tutoring – Peer Tutoring is offered in two formats for students seeking support related to their coursework. Drop-In tutoring targets our highest demand courses through regularly scheduled open tutoring sessions during the fall and spring semesters. Tutoring by appointment consists of ongoing individualized and small group sessions.You can utilize tutoring to discuss course related content, clarify and ask questions, and work through practice problems. Visit the webpage to see courses currently being supported by Peer Tutoring.
- Communication Support – Communication Support offers free one-on-one communication consulting as well as group workshops to support strong written, oral, and visual communication in texts including IMRaD and thesis-driven essays, data-driven reports, oral presentations, posters and visual design, advanced research, application materials, grant proposals, business and public policy documents, data visualisation, and team projects. Appointments are available to undergraduate and graduate students from any discipline at CMU. Schedule an appointment (in-person or video), attend a workshop, or consult handouts or videos to strengthen communication skills.
- Language and Cross-Cultural Support – This program supports students seeking help with language and cross-cultural skills for academic and professional success through individual and group sessions. Students can get assistance with writing academic emails, learning expectations and strategies for clear academic writing, pronunciation, grammar, fluency, and more. Make an appointment with a Language Development Specialist to get individualized coaching.
Supplemental Instruction (SI) – This program offers a non-remedial approach to learning in historically difficult courses at CMU. It utilizes a peer-led group study approach to help students succeed and is facilitated by an SI leader, a CMU student who has successfully completed the course. SI offers a way to connect with other students studying the same course, a guaranteed weekly study time that reinforces learning and retention of information, as well as a place to learn and integrate study tools and exam techniques specific to a course. Visit the website to see courses with SI available here.
Use of third-party copyright material
If your course uses copyrighted material such as a course reader or online resources that students must purchase (and that are not accessible by other means for free), please incorporate the following statement in your syllabus. It is meant to notify students of the additional monetary fee they will have to spend to complete your course.
Sample syllabus language:
This course uses third-party course material that is not available for individual purchase from the publisher and, as a result, the third-party course material is secured and provided by the Tepper School to students enrolled in the course. Each student enrolled in the course is required to pay to the University the associated additional course materials fee for the third-party course material provided. The amount of the course materials fee is dependent on the University’s cost of the particular materials provided, and typically ranges from $___________ to $_______________.
Proposed language for courses that may use copyright material that students cannot otherwise access (undetermined because course content is still under development):
This course may use third-party course material that is not available for individual purchase from the publisher. If so, the third-party course material will be secured and provided by the Tepper School to students enrolled in the course, and students enrolled in the course will be required to pay to the University the associated additional course materials fee for the third-party course material provided. The amount of the course materials fee is dependent on the University’s cost of the particular materials provided, and typically ranges from $___________ to $_______________.
Highlights and updates on other important syllabus elements
Attendance and Participation
We encourage you to think through your attendance and participation policies, given that it is possible more students than usual will need to miss class due to illness or quarantine this year. When crafting your attendance and participation policies, please review this guidance on student absence and health-related documentation (note: CMU login-required).
Consider the following questions to guide possible adjustments in how much you weigh attendance and participation and how you provide flexibility when students cannot attend.
- Is attendance/participation part of the final grade? And how might you explain your rationale so students understand the role of attendance/participation in your class?
- How much would/should absences impact students’ grades?
- How would students go about letting you know they are not able to attend class?
- How could students get participation points if they are not able to attend in person?
Sample syllabus language:
Class attendance and participation are important parts of the learning in this course. To account for this, a portion of the final grade is based on your regular attendance and active participation (see grading section). That said, I also recognize that students may need to miss class for a variety of reasons (religious observance, job interview, university-sanctioned event, or illness). For that reason, all students are permitted two class absences without any impact on the final grade. When you must miss class, please notify me (at least 24 hours in advance except for illness/emergency), so that we can discuss alternative arrangements for catching up on class and associated work. If you encounter extenuating circumstances and must miss more than two classes, please come and discuss the issue with me; I would like to find a way to support you.
[You can find additional sample language on our “regular” attendance policy page and participation page.]
Given the current context holds considerable uncertainty and students may still be experiencing effects of the pandemic and international events, it is especially important to include a statement on Student Well-Being. You may also wish to include some personal language acknowledging the exceptional circumstances of our current context to further signal to students that you take a personal interest in their well-being.
Sample text to include before your “standard” text on student well-being:
The last few years have been challenging. We are all under a lot of stress and uncertainty at this time. I encourage you to find ways to move regularly, eat well, and reach out to your support system or me [add email] if you need to. We can all benefit from support in times of stress, and this semester is no exception.
[For language to continue your statement on student wellness see several samples here.]
A diversity statement in your syllabus is an important way to help set the stage for a supportive and inclusive classroom environment. Faculty Senate endorsed incorporating a diversity statement in CMU syllabi in Fall 2020. Please refer to this page for suggestions and sample language, as you create a statement that reflects your classroom practices.
Accommodations for students with disabilities
Disability Resources recommends using the standard syllabus language, which can be found (with some additional information) here, and for convenience is reproduced below:
Sample syllabus language:
Accommodations for Students with Disabilities:
If you have a disability and have an accommodations letter from the Disability Resources office, I encourage you to discuss your accommodations and needs with me as early in the semester as possible. I will work with you to ensure that accommodations are provided as appropriate. If you suspect that you may have a disability and would benefit from accommodations but are not yet registered with the Office of Disability Resources, I encourage you to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recording of Class Sessions
Classrooms have camera and microphone equipment designed to allow instructors to record class sessions. (See here for information and instructions on the equipment in individual Registrar classrooms.). Faculty have the option – but are not required – to record their class sessions. One notable benefit of class recordings is that they provide resources to students who cannot attend class for temporary reasons.
IMPORTANT! If you decide to record your class session(s) and make the recordings available to the class, please include the syllabus language below that explains to students that they may only use the recordings for their personal, educational use. That is, class recordings may not be distributed – by students or the instructor – to anyone outside of the class. Note: This means that class recordings from previous semesters may not be shared with current students, unless those recordings do not have any student images, voices, etc. Please see additional guidance on this page under “May I, should I record my live class sessions”.
In addition to instructor-provided class recordings, if you would like to highlight in your syllabus what individual students can/cannot do related to making their own recordings of class sessions, please see the Recording Policy section of our “regular” syllabus recommendations page for detailed information and sample language.
Sample syllabus language:
For this course, I will be recording class sessions and making them available to you for your personal, educational use. Recordings of class sessions are covered under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and must not be shared with anyone outside your course-section. The purpose of these recordings is so students in this course (and only students in this course) can watch or re-watch past class sessions. Feel free to use the recordings if you would like to review something we discussed in class or if you are temporarily unable to attend class.
Use of technology during class
The past years have involved various new uses of educational technology. This suggests updating your policies about use of technology during class by considering these questions:
- What equipment would students need to participate fully in such technology-enabled activities? Note: if your course requires any technology (e.g., laptop, additional software, unique course materials), this should be stated explicitly in the syllabus. It should also be disclosed in the course profile (which is visible to students via S3; ask your department administrator about updating the course profile).
- How can students let you know if they do not have the necessary equipment to participate in online activity during in-person classes? (Note: you can direct students to contact their HUB liaison if they lack access to appropriate equipment to request emergency grants.)
Sample syllabus language (if you wish to use technology in class):
For some class sessions, we will be using <insert edtech tool> which can be accessed on a smartphone or laptop. For these sessions, I will ask you in advance to bring your mobile device, and we will review how to use the tool together in class. If you do not have the necessary equipment, please contact your HUB liaison who is available to help you tap into appropriate resources.
This section highlights two important considerations to keep in mind throughout creating your syllabus and, more broadly, designing your course: the tone communicated in your syllabus and the concept of flexibility. For other general suggestions on course and syllabus design, see our related webpages on designing your course and writing a syllabus.
The syllabus is the first opportunity for you to communicate with your students. It is a place where you communicate your course design and expectations to your students. Your syllabus is an important component of establishing a positive relationship with your students and setting the tone of your course for the semester. We encourage you to consider your syllabus’ tone carefully. Here are some questions to guide your review:
- Are my policies explained and justified? (e.g. have I explained why submitting work on time is crucial for student success? Have I explained why it is important to be present and engaged in the classroom?)
- Is my language student-centered? (e.g. I address what the students will do during the course)
- Is my language supportive rather than punitive (e.g. “students will be eligible for X% of the total grade when work is submitted late” vs “students will lose X points when work is submitted late” or “A penalty of X points will be applied…”)
- Do I emphasize appropriate behavior rather than negative behavior (e.g. explanation of what constitutes Academic Integrity is discussed more at length than “cheating” or “dishonesty”)
- Do I explicitly address ways to reach out for help in unforeseen circumstances?
- Are my assignments presented in a way that students can understand their purpose in supporting the learning objectives of the course?
If you want to read more about other examples of improving tone in the syllabus, check out this article from the Chronicle.
Based on the societal upheaval of the last few years, CMU has encouraged faculty to be flexible with students who may be experiencing difficulties completing assignments on time. The balance between offering flexibility and supporting students with deadlines and structure can be difficult to achieve. There are multiple ways to think about flexibility that might help, for example: building flexibility into your course design and providing flexible policies to your students. In any case, remember that the appropriate level of flexibility – i.e., what works for you, your students, and ultimately their learning – is likely somewhere between the extremes. Regardless of where you land, a helpful approach is to communicate clearly and regularly with your students and require them to keep communication lines open with you, while you support their efforts to catch-up to their assignments or attendance.
To build flexibility into your course design,
- Consider the pace of your assignments:
- How much time between assignments do students have? Can this interval be lengthened?
- Can students work on some components sooner than you originally planned to provide more flexibility if someone experiences a delay?
- Are there completion-based assignments that can be “forgiven” if someone is sick?
- Revisit the format and timing of participation/attendance in your classroom
- Can students participate asynchronously in discussions (for instance through a Canvas discussion)?
- How can students show you they have reviewed the materials that they missed and engaged with the in-class activities?
- Think about making available your in-class materials
- Can you record your classes? (see our above section “Recording of Class Sessions”)
- Do you make your Powerpoints slides available online? Your handouts? Any other important material distributed or made available during in-person class?
- Consider hosting some office hours on Zoom or by appointment
Providing a flexible policy can look like allowing certain components to be submitted up to a certain number of days late up to a fixed number of times throughout the semester.
- Review which assignments in your course can be submitted late and offer those specific ones as possible late assignments, while encouraging students to prioritize timeliness on others.
- If an assignment cannot be submitted late but a student is incapacitated, can they submit a modified version of the assignment?
- Can you offer make-up exams? Or alternate assignments?
If you want to read more about other examples of balancing flexibility and supporting students in your classroom, check out this article from the Chronicle.
Syllabus consultation? Contact email@example.com and an Eberly Colleague will be happy to assist.