Creating a Syllabus for Online Learners

Students in a remote learning environment rely heavily on the course syllabus to understand what expectations you have of them for their engagement and to successfully complete the course. A comprehensive, well-designed syllabus includes the course objectives, grading scale, semester course schedule — including topics, assessment distribution, due dates — and clear expectations for remote participation. It is also important to clearly state all course policies and where to get support for both instructional and technical issues.

Core Components of a Well-Designed Syllabus

= notable or unique to hybrid/online courses

  • Basic information: Include the course name and number, your name, contact information, and instructional support staff information.
  • Preferred contact method: In an online or hybrid course, it’s especially important to indicate your preferred method(s) of communication (e.g., email, phone, office hours) and best times to reach you and/or your co-instructors or GSIs. 
  • Remote office hour instructions: Be sure to include your information about your remote office hours, including the platform, how to join remotely, and how to schedule 1:1 appointments. 
  • Materials and minimum technical requirements: Communicate minimum technical requirements to your students, including minimum computer requirements. Also include information about any required software, texts, readings, or other course materials, and where can students acquire them.
  • Technical support: For online learners, technical support can be critical. Be sure to include a clear description of the support offered and how to obtain it.
  • Honor Code statement: Include an Honor Code statement describing the nature of allowed or disallowed collaboration in the course. To view a sample statement, refer to our Policy Statements and Student Support Resources – Syllabus Template.
  • FERPA compliant recording notice: If you are using recorded material, it is important to review the FERPA requirements and include a statement about recording class sessions in your syllabus. 
  • COVID-19 statement: The College of Engineering strongly encourages all faculty to include this statement in their Fall 2020 syllabus(es). You should feel free to adjust the tone and/or language to reflect your own voice.
  • Course description & learning objectives: Clearly articulate the knowledge and skills students will gain, and why the course is important. If possible, consider providing a short description or set of objectives for each section of the course and explain why the course is organized as it is. Also be sure to highlight any prerequisites. 
  • Course schedule: Clearly outline the course schedule and topic outline, including live/synchronous meeting dates, assigned reading, assignment and assessment deadlines, and any additional information students will need to prepare for each section.
  • Expectations for participation: In online and hybrid courses, it’s especially important to include a schedule of assignments that includes clear synchronous vs. asynchronous participation expectations.
  • Grading policy: Also include a clear statement outlining your assessment process and measurements.
  • University policies: Include required statements on University policies such as Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Reporting & Resources and Accommodations for Students with Disabilities. You may also consider adding an inclusive teaching statement. To view a sample statement, refer to our Policy Statements and Student Support Resources – Syllabus Template.
  • Student wellness and support services: Add information about U-M wellness and support services, such accommodation requests, the C.A.R.E. Center, and resources for students in distress.

Best Practices for a Hybrid or Online Course Syllabus

  • Add direct links: Consider adding direct links to your syllabus for students to ask questions (e.g., via email or Canvas discussion) regarding course instructions, administrative support, and technical support.
  • Plan for additional content: Plan for when course components will be added or made available as the course progresses (e.g., content, recordings, assignments of students groups). Considering adding this information to your syllabus.
  • Considering using a template: To streamline the process, considering using a standard syllabus template as a framework (see below for sample).
  • Make it printable: Create a printable version of your syllabus for students who prefer to reference a hard copy to navigate the course.
  • Use student-centered language: To address students directly and make your syllabus more engaging, consider using first-person language (e.g. “at the end of this course, you will understand how to…”).
  • Include a section on how to succeed: Consider including suggestions on how students can succeed in your course, such as time management recommendations, estimated time to spend on assignments/activities, and a statement encouraging them to ask questions.

COVID-19 Syllabus Statement

The College of Engineering strongly encourages all faculty to include the below statement in their Fall 2020 syllabus(es). You should feel free to adjust the tone and/or language to reflect your own voice.

“For the safety of all students, faculty, and staff on campus, it is important for each of us to be mindful of safety measures that have been put in place for our protection. By returning to campus, you have acknowledged your responsibility for protecting the collective health of our community. Your participation in this course on an in-person basis is conditional upon your adherence to all safety measures mandated by the State of Michigan and the University, including maintaining physical distancing of six feet from others, and properly wearing a face covering in class. Other applicable safety measures may be described in the Wolverine Culture of Care and the University’s Face Covering Policy for COVID-19. Your ability to participate in this course in-person as well as your grade may be impacted by failure to comply with campus safety measures. Individuals seeking to request an accommodation related to the face covering requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact the Office for Institutional Equity. If you are unable or unwilling to adhere to these safety measures while in a face-to-face class setting, you will be required to participate on a remote basis (if available) or to disenroll from the class. I also encourage you to review the Statement of Students Rights and Responsibilities, which includes a COVID-related Statement Addendum.”

FERPA Compliant recording notice

With the increase in remote courses, it is an important time to review the FERPA requirements around the re-use of recordings. Recordings of class activities in which students are seen or heard are considered educational records that fall under FERPA requirements. If you are using recorded material for the course and term in which it was recorded, there is no real concern, as long as you include a statement about recording class sessions in your syllabus.


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