Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
Benefits to Instructors
The Authors
Part I - Focus on Learning
Preparing Students
Setting a Framework for Knowledge
Planning Your Learning-Centered Syllabus: An Overview of the Process
Composing a Learning-Centered Syllabus
Using a Learning-Centered Syllabus
Part II - Examples
Table of Contents
In structor Information
Student Information Form
Letter to the Students or Teaching Philosophy Statement
Purpose of the Course
Course Description
Course Objectives
Course Calendar
Course Requirements
Policies and Expectations: Attendance, Late Papers, Missed Tests, Class ...
Policies and Expectations: Academic Integrity, Disability Access, and Safety
Grading Procedures
How to Succeed in the Course: Tools for Study and Learning
Part III - Suggested Readings
General Teaching
Active Learning
Assessment and Evaluation
Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
Course and Curriculum Design
Critical Thinking
Information Technology
Learning and Motivation
Student Differences
Online Resources for Syllabus Construction
Teaching Portfolios

Praise for The Course Syllabus, Second Edition
“I can’t imagine how many times I’ve recommended this book—to new faculty, to part-time teachers, to experienced pedagogues, and to faculty finding their way to more learner-centered approaches. I can’t imagine a book more deserving of a second edition. And, I can’t imagine a second edition better than the first, but this one is, thanks to the able efforts of two new authors.”—Maryellen Weimer, professor emeritus, Penn State, and editor, the Teaching Professor
“New and veteran college teachers alike, in all types of institutions from the community college to the university level, will benefit from this highly thoughtful, scholarly, and persuasive argument for the critical role of the learning-centered course syllabus. The authors clearly and convincingly demonstrate how to create a learning-centered course syllabus that becomes a dynamic, essential part of a course that encourages student engagement, active learning, and critical thinking. A must-read for anyone committed to teaching today’s college students to maximize their skills and knowledge for a changing world!”—Angela Provitera McGlynn, professor emeritus of psychology and author of Teaching Today’s College Students and Successful Beginnings for College Teaching
“It’s obvious that Millis and Cohen have extensive backgrounds in college teaching and learning. Their work on the syllabus as a fundamental component of good teaching is supportive, insightful, current, and practical. This is a masterful updating of Grunert’s classic, relevant across all disciplines.”—Nancy Chism, professor of higher education, Indiana University
“All individuals involved in instructing today’s (and tomorrow’s) college students facing twenty-first century academic challenges should read this book for helpful suggestions on how to prepare an enhanced blueprint for learning and academic success—the course syllabus.”—James E. Groccia, director, Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning; associate professor, educational leadership; and past president, POD Network in Higher Education
“This book is unusually good. Comprehensive, clear, practical, and immediately useful, it should be read by every department chair and faculty member.”—Peter Seldin, Distinguished Professor of Management, Pace University
“This update of The Course Syllabus includes, among other fine features, an excellent review and incorporation of ideas from the literature on college teaching that have been published since the original version.”—L. Dee Fink, national project director, Teaching & Curriculum Assessment Project
“The syllabus is much more than a course description; it is a working document for both the instructor and the students. In The Course Syllabus, Grunert, Millis, and Cohen have provided a well-documented, up-to-date road map for teachers and learners alike to using the syllabus effectively by emphasizing the value of the learning-centered approach.”—Marilla D. Svinicki, professor, Department of Educational Psychology, the University of Texas at Austin


The Jossey-Bass
Higher and Adult Education Series

This book is dedicated to our college
and university colleagues who are teaching students
to value the processes of learning as much as they do.

THE RESEARCH ON teaching and learning is consistent: the more information you provide your students about the goals of a course, their responsibilities, and the criteria you will use to evaluate their performance, the more successful they will be as students and the more successful you will be as a teacher. This is no easy task. It requires a great deal of effort on your part and, often, far more work than you originally anticipate.
The first step is to develop a clear set of learning goals or outcomes for each course and for every one of its units. You will then want to ensure that the methods you use to evaluate student success align with the goals of these courses. In addition, students need to understand—and perceive as fair—the criteria you will use to determine their grades and the standards of acceptable performance. After you have determined the goals and the evaluation criteria, you can then focus on the specific activities and assignments that will help students achieve the goals. Students will also need to know what you expect of them academically and socially. Perhaps equally challenging, students must read and use this information once you provide it to them.
Unfortunately, in too many instances your students will enter your course without the study skills and habits necessary to effectively use even the best information. Today’s students need you to reinforce the importance of the material you provide and give them detailed information on how to best use it. Just handing students a quality study guide or syllabus is not enough. You need to introduce the importance of your stated learning goals, show students how these outcome statements are directly related to how they are evaluated, and then reinforce this relationship through quizzes, tests, and assignments early and often.
In addition, technology, changing demographics, distance education, and new ways of thinking about the nature of knowledge in the information age have prompted many changes in teaching that may be unfamiliar to your students. New learning opportunities abound through the Internet, including Web sites (such as MySpace and YouTube), e-mail, and course management systems (such as Blackboard, WebCampus, Angel, and Moodle)—which all allow academic exchanges to occur outside regular class meetings. The significant increase in part-time and adult students (including first-generation students), as well as in internships and extended classroom activities, has affected the nature of what and how we teach. The traditional one- to three-page syllabus is ineffective for helping students understand their expanding role in the learning enterprise. To understand the expectations that you have of them and the plans that have been established for their learning experience, your students need more comprehensive information than the traditional syllabus provides. The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach addresses student learning and responds to this question: what do students need to know to derive maximum benefit from their educational experience?
Many faculty have already gone far beyond the shorter syllabus. John Lough (1997), in a study of Carnegie Professor of the Year award winners, found important similarities in syllabi designed by these exemplary teachers. Most obvious was the detailed precision. Each contained clearly stated course objectives; a day-by-day schedule identifying specific reading assignments and due dates; and clear statements regarding make-up dates, attendance, and grading standards. These syllabi also provided students with the times when the professor would be available in the office, by e-mail, and by phone at home. Lough observed, “One gets the very clear impression that the Carnegie award winners have extraordinary expectations for their own behavior in and out of the classroom. Perhaps it is not so surprising, therefore, that these professors might impose some of these same standards on the students with whom they share so much.” These high standards are manifest by what such teachers do in the classroom and by what they say in their syllabi.
Robert M. Diamond Author of Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula

MYRIAD CHALLENGES FACE American colleges and universities today, i ncluding serving an increasingly diverse student population and responding to the demands of an information society that is transforming the way we live, work, and learn. This diversity is reflected in how our students select campuses, choose majors, and enroll in courses. Some students base their choices on traditional factors—prestige, financial aid, legacy, program options, reputation—and others base their choices on mundane factors, such as convenience, proximity, and cost. More and more students are delaying college matriculation or going to school part-time. Many are fulfilling dreams to enroll in college after raising families or serving their country. They select courses that synchronize smoothly with their work and family schedules. They are first- and second-generation Americans. They are fluent in more than one language, or they may be learning to speak, read, and write in English as a second language. They travel around the world to attend a college in the United States, and they matriculate from the neighborhoods adjacent to our campuses. The diversity of our students increases the complexity of our instructional lives. Whether they’re in a small seminar or a large lecture hall, our students bring to the classroom different knowledge sets and experiences, different reasons for pursuing degrees, different interests and motives, and different resources and skills for learning.
How do we respond to this heterogeneity? A renewed focus on student learning is one way of meeting these attitudinal and behavioral challenges. A first step is making a habit of applying our inquiry skills to our teaching and asking persistently, “How do I know my students are learning?” and “What’s best for student learning?” Fortunately, we can rely on the extensive research on learning and motivation and consider which learning goals and teaching priorities will ensure that our students learn in meaningful, purposeful, and effective ways. Listening and watching for answers to questions like “How do I know my students understand this abstraction?” “How do I know everyone can replicate the problem solution?” and “How can I be certain that we’ve clarified misconceptions?” can help us focus creatively on the strategies that will steer the diverse learners in our classes to valuing academic success.
This guide frames the process of developing a comprehensive student syllabus as a reflective exercise that will lead to course improvement. Composing a syllabus that is centered on student learning is a challenging undertaking that requires substantial reflection and analysis. A learning-centered syllabus requires that you shift from what you, the instructor, are going to cover in your course to a concern for what information, tools, assignments, and activities you can provide to promote your students’ learning and intellectual development. It is an evolving process that is enhanced by repeated opportunities to teach the same course to different learners.
Your syllabus represents a significant point of interaction, often the first, between you and your students. When thoughtfully prepared, your syllabus will demonstrate the interplay of your understanding of students’ needs and interests, your beliefs and assumptions about the nature of learning and education, and your values and interests concerning course content and structure. When carefully designed, your syllabus will provide your students with essential information and resources that can help them become effective learners by actively shaping their own learning. It will minimize misunderstandings by providing you and your students with a common plan and set of references.


Part I of this book reflects on the implications of the learning context and adopting a focus on learning for you and your students. We hope it guides you to discover fresh insights and new ways to develop a course syllabus. Included are sections on planning a learning-centered syllabus, composing it to serve a number of functions, and using it as a learning tool throughout a course. In each section, we call attention to integrating various technologies, especially course management systems, to enhance the form, function, and use of the syllabus.
Part II offers excerpts from syllabi developed for courses in many disciplines at colleges and universities across the United States. These examples may not necessarily have been developed within a framework of learning-centeredness, but they all contribute something to this perspective. Each was recommended by faculty developers who are well attuned to learning-centered teaching. Since we routinely do not exchange syllabi with one another, reviewing these examples will offer new ideas for content and style and will affirm some of the risks you may have taken already as you developed and updated syllabi for your courses. Learning how others construct objectives, phrase expectations, convey a course policy, or design an assignment may be the encouragement many of us need to redesign part of our syllabus or course or to try an innovation.
Part III includes an annotated list of suggested readings that you will find useful for further exploration of issues raised in this guide. The topics include general teaching, active learning, assessment and evaluation, cooperative and collaborative learning, course and curriculum design, critical thinking, information technology, learning and motivation, student differences, online resources for constructing a syllabus, and references to develop an annotated teaching portfolio that you can use to document innovations and improvements in your teaching.

Benefits to Instructors

As the instructor responsible for teaching a course, you are usually responsible for developing course materials, starting with a course syllabus. This book will help you. By thinking through course goals, assessment and grading practices, course content, and student activities, you will confront issues of consistency and practicality. These considerations will lead to a more carefully designed course, one that consistently focuses on your students and their learning.
A learning-centered syllabus can help reinforce the roles that you expect students to take in your course. By providing concrete descriptions of tools and procedures, you will be prepared to help those students who may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable with active and collaborative learning approaches.
While this guide was developed with college and university instructors in mind, it should also be useful to others, including:
• Faculty mentors of junior faculty, new faculty, and TAs
• Department chairs, program directors, and deans
• Administrators of academic affairs
• Members of curriculum committees
• Accreditation planning teams
• Faculty development specialists
• Instructional designers
• Students of educational practice
• Other postsecondary educators
Transforming your courses into the kinds of educational environments where students share responsibility for shaping their learning is an evolving process, for you as well as for your students. Developing a learning-centered syllabus can compel you and your colleagues to clarify curricular goals and instructional priorities and to discuss how to promote learning in a discipline or across a program.
Barbara Millis
Excellence in Teaching Program
University of Nevada, Reno
Margaret Cohen
Center for Teaching and Learning University of Missouri-St. Louis

WE WISH TO thank Judith Grunert O’Brien for her foresight and inspiring work on the first edition of this text. We also are grateful to our many colleagues in the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education who sent us stimulating syllabi from creative faculty on their own campuses. We especially want to thank the contributors themselves, who offered their work and whose carefully constructed syllabi provide the examples and tested applications that will help others make the connections with students that are so important for learning.
Special thanks go to Karolina Urbanowska, a talented graduate student in the Excellence for Teaching Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. She pitched in eagerly and competently to end hours of frustration over the formatting of the book and the copyright permissions. At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, immeasurable help was received from Cheryl Bielema, Cheryle Cann, and Vicki Lock. At home, we thank our families for respecting our obsessions and the project and for finding fitting ways to support us.
Barbara Millis Margaret Cohen

The Authors
JUDITH GRUNERT O’BRIEN, the original author, was a member of the School of Art faculty at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts when she wrote the first edition of The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach in 1997.
BARBARA J. MILLIS, who received her PhD in English literature from Florida State University, has been active in faculty development since 1982, when she became the staff development specialist for the University of Maryland University College’s Asian Division. She works with faculty around the globe on course redesign, active and cooperative learning, peer review (including classroom observations), classroom assessment techniques, academic games, and so forth. She heads the Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Nevada, Reno.
MARGARET W. COHEN is the associate provost for professional development and founding director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She joined the UM-St. Louis faculty in 1980 and chaired the Division of Educational Psychology, Research and Evaluation in the College of Education before adding her current responsibilities in the Office of Academic Affairs in 2000. She designs campus programs for faculty, teaching assistants, academic leaders, and peer tutors; and she supports new initiatives for faculty and chairs at the four campuses in the University of Missouri System. She earned her PhD in educational psychology from Washington University in St. Louis.

Part I
Focus on Learning
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES across the United States are making a fresh commitment to student learning. Many would argue that learning has always been central in their institutions; however, what is happening now is different in important ways. Barkley, Cross, and Major (2005) remind faculty of the need to pay attention to what students are learning: “At a time when students and parents consider a college education a necessity . . . legislators, accrediting agencies, the American public, and educators themselves are raising questions about what students are learning in college—and they are asking for evidence ” (p. xi). These changing expectations about the need for effective undergraduate education are reinforced by broader influences, including the increased use of technology and the short half-life of knowledge in most discipline areas. Lifelong learning—including communication, critical thinking, and team-building skills—is a virtual necessity for all members of the workforce today. Kuh (2007) points out that “as many as four-fifths of high-school graduates will need some form of postsecondary education if they are to become self-sufficient and the nation is to remain economically competitive” (p. B12). The nature of the workforce and the diverse student populations that feed it also call for new innovations in the classroom.
Along with the recognition of multiple perspectives comes a responsibility that colleges and universities are trying to meet through a renewed focus on students and how they learn. As an instructor, making your students’ learning and development a priority means that you must consider their varied educational needs, interests, and motivations as you determine the content and structure of your course.
Barr and Tagg’s (1995) influential article “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education” fueled a healthy movement toward rethinking the nature of teaching and learning. It was followed by Tagg’s (2003) book The Learning Paradigm College. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (2002) released an important monograph, Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College, that also sparked campus symposia and discussions. Subsequent books—such as Weimer’s (2002) Learner-Centered Teaching and Fink’s (2003) Creating Significant Learning Experiences—and numerous articles provide useful models and convincing research. A number of recent publications have reinforced the need for more attention to instructional processes in part because of the influx of so-called Millennials, students born after 1982 who often enter colleges and universities without adequate academic preparation, study skills, or the predisposition to do whatever it takes to succeed.
Much has been written about the Millennial generation. McGuire and Williams (2002) characterize Millennials as having a consumer mentality, ubiquitous computer access, and an intolerance for nonengaging pedagogical techniques (p. 186). The Millennials are also characterized as being team oriented. Howe, Strauss, and Matson (2000) state, “From Barney and soccer to school uniforms and a new classroom emphasis on group learning, Millennials are developing strong team instincts and tight peer bonds” (p. 44). Carlson (2005), quoting R. T. Sweeney, adds, “‘In grade school they were pushed to collaboration’ which explains the popularity of group study in college today . . . ‘The collaboration . . . is both in-person and virtual’” (p. A36).
Furthermore, Millennials are focused on being credentialed with little interest in obtaining a broad-based liberal arts education. Thus, they are concerned with careers and earning a good living. Bauerlein (2006) regards Millennials as disengaged from the liberal arts curriculum and focused instead on “a blooming, buzzing confusion of adolescent stimuli,” such as “TV shows, blogs, hand-helds, [and] wireless” (p. B8). Sweeney remarks on the rigidity of the Millennials: “They want to learn, but they want to learn only what they have to learn, and they want to learn it in a style that is best for them . . . Often they prefer to learn by doing” (Carlson, 2005, p. A36). Strauss and Howe (2005) offer a stern warning that faculty have to change to face these realities: “[I]f Millennials perceive professors as being so stuck in the last century on matters of ideology, attitude, and technology that they can no longer teach the knowledge and skills necessary for financial success—then colleges should watch out. Many will see their admissions pools shrink, their acceptance yields decline, and their dropout rates rise—perhaps sharply” (p. B24).
More positively, Harris and Cullen (2007) note that the Millennials ’ penchant for “doing rather than knowing” leads them to favor experiential learning and trial and error over abstract knowledge, an observation supporting the shift toward a learning-centered pedagogy (p. 5).

Preparing Students

The Association of College and Research Libraries (2006) defines information-literate students as those who “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” As the world moves toward a knowledge-based economy, information literacy becomes a crucial component of preparing students for the lifelong learning that current and future job markets demand.
You need only consider the situations students will face after graduation to appreciate the importance of a focus on learning for your course and your syllabus. Our contemporary lives have intensified our need to know how to learn, both alone and in collaboration with others. Upon leaving school, your students will encounter complex problems daily and will come to recognize that contradiction, ambiguity, and change are natural states of affairs. Faced with multiple and often conflicting perspectives, they will continually be forced to break out of old thought patterns, to think in new ways. The Association of American Colleges and Universities (2002) frames it this way: “The world is complex, interconnected, and more reliant on knowledge than ever before. College has become a virtual necessity for individuals to build satisfying lives and careers. In a world of turbulent changes, every kind of occupation has seen a dramatic increase in education requirements. The majority of jobs considered desirable are now held by people with at least some college, and jobs for the best educated workers are growing the fastest” (chap. 1).
Preparing your students for the purposeful and effective lifelong learning that these conditions require has strong implications for course content, structure, and the materials and strategies that you use to promote learning. Students will require more carefully thought-out information and well-honed tools.
Our students live and work in a world where the quality and quantity of information changes rapidly and what counts as knowledge alters with time and context. The effects of information technology and communications technology have produced profound changes in the way we live and work. Baron (2001) reminds us that:
Information sources have proliferated and become more complex over the past decade, and they will continue to do so for a long time to come. From a well-established, systemic, and centralized system composed mainly of books, journals, government documents, and the indices that accompany them, the world of information has expanded tremendously.
It now includes not only online versions of all of the traditional sources, but also sources never before considered, such as electronic databases and Web sites. The sheer volume of information and information sources is daunting, and so is the task of making informed and discriminating choices of value and usage.
An impressive number of new studies, books, and articles have focused on the way students learn. Bransford, Brown, and Cocking’s (2000) How People Learn made it difficult for even the most lecture-committed faculty member to ignore research with clear implications for a more learning - centered basis of teaching. Beichner’s (2006) groundbreaking summary of the research on active learning and its implications for all aspects of teaching and learning, including the design of learning environments, makes it difficult to ignore the mounting evidence that business as usual—preparing and delivering lectures to passive students who then regurgitate “the facts” on short-answer or multiple-choice tests—is no longer an adequate pedagogical response to the demands of the twenty -first century. In fact, Finkle (2000) concludes, “Educational research over the past twenty-five years has established beyond a doubt a simple fact: What is transmitted to students through lecturing is simply not retained for any significant length of time” (p. 3).

Setting a Framework for Knowledge

Learning is an active, constructive, contextual process. New knowledge is acquired in relation to previous knowledge; information becomes meaningful when it is presented and acquired in some type of framework. From a learning-centered perspective, your task as an instructor is to interact with students in ways that enable them to acquire new information, practice new skills, reconfigure what they already know, and recognize what they have learned (B. G. Davis, 1993).
A learning-centered approach has subtle but profound implications for you as a teacher. It asks that you think carefully about your teaching philosophy, what it means to be an educated person in your discipline or field, how your course relates to disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs of study, and your intentions and purposes for producing and assessing learning. It asks that you think through the implications of your preferred teaching style; the decisions you make about teaching strategies and forms of assessment; and the ways that students’ diverse needs, interests, and purposes can influence all those choices.

Clarifying Expectations

The syllabus provides the first opportunity faculty have to encourage and guide students to take responsibility for their learning. Weimer (2002) argues that teaching students to be responsible, and therefore successful, in their academic pursuits sets learning-centered instruction apart from teacher-centered instruction. When reading a learning-centered syllabus, students learn what is required to achieve the course objectives, and they learn what processes will support their academic success. In addition to stating what students will know at the conclusion of the course, objectives may also address the skills students will learn to achieve those competencies. Examples of this are learning the oratory skills necessary to present an oral argument, learning the interpersonal skills needed to work successfully in a small group, and learning to use software effectively to support a presentation on a research project. Technically speaking, these skills are not necessarily content knowledge for law, business, or advanced research methods courses, but within learning-centered courses, they are acknowledged outcomes because they are integrally connected to attaining academic success. In a learning-centered course, both content and process skills may be included as outcomes. If you require students to write persuasive statements comparing materials that they have read, you must take responsibility for ensuring that they know how to do so.
A key expectation may be helping students learn to become what the Association of American Colleges and Universities (2002) defines as “intentional learners”: