Developing a Course

Developing a course / developing a syllabus. Practical stuff and advice, and link to UCFTR and workshops and the checklist

The course syllabus is your primary tool for making sure that your class has a “map” to follow. It is a very useful way to develop your vision for how the class will work. A well-written syllabus demonstrates the facilitator’s commitment to the course, its students and the faculty sponsor. As the semester progresses, it is acceptable to deviate from the map, but it is good to have a plan! Your students also need to know what is going on and what will be expected of them. It is very important to have a clear understanding with your students.

In the syllabus, you should list any assignments and due dates. Your grading policy should be written as clearly as possible, as well as your attendance policy if you have one in detail. Tell students what they need to do to get a “P” in your course. You should have a description of the course. You should also have your contact information and a way that students can meet with you if they have questions or are especially interested in the topic (hint: for a good class, get your students to meet with you outside of class, it makes everything a lot more personal and interesting for all involved).

It is also possible to create a syllabus and a class that are both structured and flexible. For example, you can indicate that you and your students will decide ground rules for the class. Similarly, you may wish to leave time in your class schedule for student presentations, or for students to lead the class for a week. For more information, come to facilitator training.


Here’s what Polly Pagenhart, former Undergraduate Course Facilitator Training & Resources (UCFTR) Coordinator, wrote about creating a course syllabus:

Q: How much planning time should I allow for getting a good class together?

A: More than you think! The average professor-led class is the result of years of research and fine-tuning, and it’s not unusual for GSIs to spend up to a year researching and preparing a class for the first time. Most well-thought-out student-initiated classes are undertakings on the scale of a major undergraduate research project: it should take a lot of the semester beforehand in the research process, and more time than you think the semester of its implementation.

With the caveat that the planning process for a class will vary depending on its structure, here are some useful rules of thumb:

in the semester before:

  • you should allow as many weeks of advance planning as you’ll have of class meetings
  • dealing with logistics can be time-consuming—and distract from the core work of polishing core class content—so start early & stay focussed
  • consider your class syllabus and core course curriculum akin to a research project: you need time to season your thoughts on the subject’s potential, time to find the best source material, and time to reconsider the best way in which to present it—or to draw it out from your students

when class is underway:

  • most teachers spend at least two hours in prep time outside class for every hour spent inside class
  • most teachers working with material for the first time spend three or more hours in prep per every one hour in class