Samford University has a 164-year history of excellence in teaching. The mission of Samford University is to "nurture persons in their development of faith, intellect, creativity, and personhood." For students to develop these abilities, Samford University has articulated in the 2006 Samford University Faculty Handbook a number of policies on course syllabi. Syllabi are important tools for students, faculty, administrators, and to the institution as a whole.
A syllabus could be viewed as a contract between the faculty instructor and the students (University of Missouri-St. Louis, 2001). Viewing this document as closed and contractual (i.e. an inflexible calendar of guaranteed assignments and evaluations) could potentially cause faculty to incur serious problems. Minor modifications to a course have been found to be within a faculty instructor's realm of responsibility (Barngrover v. Maack). Designing a legally sound course syllabi that complies with course catalogs, faculty and student handbooks is essential.
Student learning is enhanced when course expectations are clearly articulated. Syllabi can serve as a vehicle to describe teaching philosophy, goals and objectives of the course, expectations of workload and grading, class deportment and reinforcement of university policies. Syllabi are also useful for faculty annual evaluation and advancement of rank. As indicated in the Faculty Handbook, "two central concerns of each annual faculty evaluation are (a) the quality of personal and professional growth on the part of the individual; and (b) the extent to which this growth enables the University to fulfill its institutional mission and the school/department to achieve its goals and objectives." Faculty areas to be evaluated include scholarship, service, and teaching. Of the latter, factors to be reviewed include "discipline mastery, classroom effectiveness, quality of course materials and creative guidance of individual students".
A syllabus is an important component of course materials. A well-organized syllabus with clearly articulated goals and objectives facilitates assessment of learning outcomes, and protects faculty from student misunderstandings and appeals, particularly as they related to assignments, grading, and academic integrity. Additionally, accreditation and certification guidelines for most disciplines require syllabi that include measurable goals and objectives. Many disciplines' accrediting bodies require the submission of syllabi to demonstrate the inclusion of key criteria into a program's curriculum.
Policies related to elements that must be included in syllabi to be approved for use at Samford University are articulated in a number of locations in the 2006 Samford University Faculty Handbook and Student Handbook. These policies include:
A2.1.2 Weight Attached to Examinations (page 28)
"Unless the school or department has an official policy regarding the weights attached to examinations, each faculty member is responsible for determining these factors and publishing them in the syllabus. Faculty members who teach sections of a multi-section course should compare tests, examinations, and grading procedures with those of other teachers of the course. The weight assigned to each component of the grade must be published in the syllabus for the course."
A2.1.3 Make Up Work (page 28)
"Class attendance policies are established by each school at the University, and specific attendance requirements are indicated in the syllabus of each class."
A126.96.36.199 Definition (page 29)
"A definition of grades will be found in the University Catalog in the Academic Affairs section. No grades other than those officially listed in the Catalog may be assigned students. A faculty member is not required to use the plus and minus grades; however, if these grades are not to be used, this fact must be clearly stated in the syllabus. All faculty are encouraged to use the plus and minus grades. Each faculty member must know well the quality of the work of each student and assign an appropriate grade to each at the end of the semester. The basis for each level of performance must be clearly stated in the syllabus, i.e., the student must be able to tell what level of performance will constitute each grade."
Criteria for approval of course syllabi at Samford University are described in the Samford University Faculty Handbook under B188.8.131.52 Adding a Course to the Curriculum. This section states "In order to deal with each proposal in an orderly and timely manner, the Curriculum Committee has established the a procedure for the submission of requests which includes that requests for approval of new courses should include a course syllabus, objectives, instructional and assessment methodology, needed library sources and budgetary considerations. A form is provided by the Curriculum Committee for submitting this information."
The syllabus is mentioned twice in the 2006-2007 Samford University Student Handbook. It is mentioned in relationship to attendance and to illness.
The Learner-Centered Syllabus
Does an exemplary syllabus model exist? According to Strada (2001) who surveyed the literature on syllabi, little to no consensus exists as to what constitutes the best syllabus. Inadequate (otherwise known as the P3's-prosaic, puny, and palliative) syllabi negatively affect the process of communication between a faculty member and students (Altman & Cashin, 1992; Strada, 2001). Conversely, an "elegant" syllabus is full of depth, creativity and self-disclosure that motivates faculty's teaching and enhances student learning. A "learning-centered" syllabus can decrease student anxiety and promote their involvement in the course (Grunert, 1997; Serafin, 1990).
An effective learner-centered syllabus should provide certain key elements. These include defining students' responsibilities; defining the faculty instructor's role and responsibilities to students; providing a clear statement of student outcomes; establishing standards and procedures for evaluation; acquainting students with course logistics; establishing a pattern of communication between faculty and students; and providing difficult to obtain course materials (Grunert, 1997).
- Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Grunert, J. (1997). The course syllabus: A learning centered approach. Bolton, MA: Anker.
- Strada, M, J. (2001). The case for sophisticated course syllabi. In D. Lieberman & C. Wehlburg (Eds.) To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional and organizational development, 19. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Samford Syllabus Template
The Construct a Syllabus Template (CAST) delineates those areas essential to a well-rounded, learner-centered syllabus. A few additional areas are listed and although these are not considered essential, they can enhance the syllabus by providing students with a window into the faculty member's teaching philosophy. These latter areas are marked with an asterix.
The CTLS recommends the following template be used for course syllabi.