syllabus design

A balancing act: Making established courses your own


Karin ObergKarin Öberg, Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Astronomy, taught departmental introductory course Stellar and Planetary Astronomy in 2016 by building on established material and modifying the curriculum using student feedback and her own observational assessment.

The benefits: Öberg saved pre-semester preparation time by using the same in-class worksheets of earlier iterations and retaining the course’s primary elements—three lab sessions; weekly blog post assignments; and an active, collaborative learning in-class format supervised and assisted by roaming instructors.

Research: Should syllabi communicate expectations regarding appropriate classroom behaviors?

Students poorly predict instructor expectations, according to an analysis of student and instructor survey responses about in-class behaviors such as arriving late, talking to other students, not taking notes, and monopolizing class time. The authors underscore the importance of clearly defining… Read more about Research: Should syllabi communicate expectations regarding appropriate classroom behaviors?

The hidden curriculum: Engaging students on another level


Bernard Nickel Into Practice profile PicBernhard Nickel, Professor of Philosophy, engages students in his introductory College courses about the “hidden curriculum”—defined here as the social and disciplinary norms often invisible to both students and the teaching staff, including expectations about class preparation, in-session focus, respectful discussion behavior, and the role of feedback.

The benefits: Addressing the hidden curriculum explicitly in class surfaces and dispels student assumptions about conduct (for example, concerns that discussing a paper with the instructor during office hours is cheating) that often cause poor academic performance but cannot be solved with narrowly academic feedback. 

Course Design

The Derek Bok Center outlines key questions to consider in course design. 

Syllabus tutorial video (Canvas)

Instructors have multiple opportunities via the Canvas learning management system to provide week-by-week course updates to students, including syllabus updates.

Syllabus guides (Canvas)

Instructors have multiple opportunities via the Canvas learning management system to provide week-by-week course updates to students, including syllabus updates.

Communicating course culture: Beyond the syllabus

Karen Brennan

Karen Brennan, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, designs her syllabus for T550: Designing for Learning by Creating to not only communicate the plan for the course, but to introduce students to the course culture.

The benefits: Her use of quotations, images, and color appeals to the various ways that we engage with text, and gives students (many of them future instructors themselves) a glimpse of their upcoming course experience. Drawing on other forms of expression expands the possibilities for communicating the aspirations and intentions for the course.