Professors – Design an Effective Course Syllabus – Assignments, Assessments, & Learning Experiences

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One of the first few areas that students check out in your course syllabus is the ‘assignments and tests.’ From your perspective, you know that creating learning experiences for the students and assessing their learning is of the utmost importance. Consider these three areas carefully when strategically preparing your syllabus: assignments, assessments, and in-class learning experiences.

Possible assignments & classroom learning experiences that reinforce course goals and objectives

Once you have identified your course goals and objectives, you can begin to plan for the assignments and classroom learning experiences that you will design for your students. One way to do strategic course planning is to write down each idea you have for assignments and in-class learning experiences on separate sticky notes or index cards. This allows for easy rearrangement of the ideas. Certainly, you may also just type your ideas into the computer in a list, but small notes are even easier to move around than text is.

Proceed to write down your ideas, as you look back at your course goals and objectives. You may write them on the individual week planning sheets you created in a previous section, or write them on the sticky notes and place them on these sheets. You’re not really finished with this section, but just label a portion of your syllabus “Assignments” and be ready to come back to it after finishing more of the syllabus that you’re working on (remember, this process is recursive).


Having written your objectives in measurable terms, you want to design your assessments to match them. The saying, “What gets measured gets done” is critical when we craft our courses. Students perceive that if a concept is not measured in some way, it must not be very important, and generally will not invest time in learning it. On the other hand, if they do spend time learning information and never feel like that information was assessed, they will likely “ding” you on your end-of-term evaluations. It is not enough for us to think (or to say), ‘well, someday you’ll be glad you learned this but I’m not going to assess it now.’ In the consumer-oriented environment in which we live, both real and perceived value count.

Depending upon your teaching experience with the course, you may want to ask colleagues for course examinations or other materials they have used that they believe were successful. Most of us work well from models, and “reinventing the wheel” is inefficient. Besides saving you time in developing your exams “from scratch,” these will also enable you to better gauge the level of your evaluation practices. Some people are quite willing to share when asked – and feel complimented by your request. Others, of course, are more “protective” of what they have created, so respect their right to say “no.” Be sure to say thank you, and reciprocate to those who help you.

Speakers/Guest lecturers

If through your SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) or another means you have become aware of a knowledge weakness critical to the course upon which you are focusing, you might consider having a colleague, community member, or a student contribute his/her expertise. List their names and how you see them contributing, e.g. speaker for an hour, panel discussant, small group facilitator, etc. In reaching your decision, ensure the potential speaker’s “stage presence,” etc. will contribute meaningfully to the achievement of course goals and objectives of the course, not just fill time, which students’ will rightfully perceive as a waste. Once you make your decision about a particular speaker, extend your invitation, and if accepted, add this information to the syllabus on the date that has been agreed to. Having several guest speakers during a term adds value to your course in students’ eyes.

Classroom learning experiences you want to do

As you look over your goals and objectives, think about what learning experiences you want to offer your students. Are there potentially pertinent field trips? What experiments or mock activities would enrich students’ understanding of critical concepts? What videos or interactive web activities would enliven their learning experience? How about small group processing activities? Are presentations appropriate for achieving synthesis and evaluation objectives? For now, just list ideas that come to you as you peruse your goals and objectives. You may also consider learning experiences that your professors employed when you were a student as well as ideas that you’ve learned about at conferences or workshops

The planning ideas discussed in this article are critical components of your syllabus – when they are part of an overall well-designed course syllabus.


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