Writing a Syllabus for a Distance Learning Class
Introduction to Distance Learning Syllabi
A syllabus is an important document in any class because it informs students of how the class will operate, the policies they must adhere to, when assignments are due, etc. In a distance learning class, the syllabus is an even more important document because it is the main information source about the class. The syllabus for a distance learning class requires much more detail and information than a syllabus used in a traditional class on campus.
In a distance learning class, students are not able to ask questions about the class, policies, and assignments and get immediate clarification from the instructor. Distance learning students often do class work during weekends and they are very likely to have questions at this time, which will often go unanswered if the instructor is not available to answer e-mail and discussion boards questions on the weekends. A detailed syllabus can eliminate many of these problems.
Benefits of a Well Designed Syllabus
A well designed and detailed syllabus can have the following benefits for instructors and students in distance learning classes:
- Students need less clarification on class details, saving time for both instructors and students.
- A syllabus helps students who join a class determine if it is the right class for them, allowing them to drop out if necessary.
- Students have all the details about the class in one document, making it easier for them to find your requirements, policies, etc.
- A detailed syllabus can serve as a contract between students and faculty.
Elements of a Distance Learning Syllabus
There are some elements of a distance learning syllabus that are highly recommended and others that are optional, but may provide additional clarification for students depending on your course requirements.
|Recommended Syllabus Element||Description|
|Course description||The official description of the course is provided by the Registrar's Office in the course catalog. You may want to add additional details that better describes what the course will cover.|
|Required and optional course materials||
|Course logistics||This is where you explain course logistics that will make the class run smoothly. For example:
Write learning objectives that explain what students should be able to demonstrate at the end of the course. Consider also indicating how you expect them to demonstrate or fulfill each objective.
|Participation policy||State your participation expectations and policies for the discussion boards and any other communication tools (i.e. chats) you use in your course. For example, you should indicate the following:
|Course timeline with content and assignments indicated||Prepare a list of the topics you will cover in your class, broken out by week, if possible. For each topic, indicate required readings and assignments that are due. Having this amount of detail will be very helpful to your students who have busy lives and appreciate knowing what is coming up so they can plan ahead to work around travel, vacations, and other commitments.|
|Academic Honesty Policy||Mention your expectations for academic honesty in the class and link to the university's Academic Honesty Policy.|
|ADA considerations||Provide a statement indicating that students who need special accommodations to participate in your class should contact you, the instructor, as well as the Student Disabilities Services Office as early in the semester as possible so that the appropriate accommodations can be arranged.|
|Optional Syllabus Element||Description|
|Information on library resources||If students in your class will be using library resources to complete their assignments, link to an overview of off-campus library access at Gordon Library.|
|Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)||Think of questions you've been asked by past students and either address them in the other sections of your syllabus, or create an FAQ document where you provide answers to the questions students have frequently asked you in the past. This will save you and the students time in the long run.|
|Discussion forum moderation guidelines||
If you will be requiring students to moderate the discussions, provide them with guidelines for doing so, or link to resources that provide them with guidelines. Some possible resources include:
Collins, M. & Z. Berge. (1997). Moderating Online Electronic Discussion Groups.
Rohfeld, R. & R. Hiemstra. (1995). Moderating Discussions in the Electronic Classroom.
|Group project guidelines||If you will be assigning group projects, make it clear why a group project is being assigned and provide guidelines for how you expect the group members to work.|
Luck, A. (1998). Syllabus Writing 101: A Template. Retrieved June 10, 2005, from the Penn State University World Campus Web site.
Northeastern University. (n.d.). Syllabus Design. Retrieved June 10, 2005, from the Northeastern University Educational Technology Center Web site.
Rochester Institute of Technology. (2004). Online Course Syllabus [Word Document]. Retrieved June 14, 2005, from the Rochester Institute of Technology RIT Online Web site.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks. (2005). Creating an Effective Syllabus [PDF]. Retrieved June 10, 2004, from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks Center or Distance Education Web site.
Last modified: Aug 30, 2005, 13:50 EDT