Creating Your Syllabus in The Context of COVID-19

As instructors prepare to teach during the spring and summer terms, one consideration is how to prepare their syllabi in the context of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U of S considers course syllabi to be contracts between instructors and students. As such, there are normally significant restrictions on what can be changed in a syllabus once it’s been distributed to students, but as you prepare to teach in the upcoming terms some greater flexibility is needed from all of us.

With that in mind, the Office of the University Secretary and Chief Governance Office issued a briefing note stating:

University Council, as approved by the Coordinating Committee: “Grants authority to instructors to alter syllabi for their classes for the duration (timeframe as determined by the President) of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for alternate modes of course delivery and examinations.”

This will help provide instructors with needed flexibility while teaching through the pandemic. Given this added flexibility, plus the unexpected change in how instructors are teaching and students are learning, there are some considerations to keep in mind while preparing your syllabi and teaching those courses:

  • While your department or college may have its own syllabus template, the U of S has one that can be used either as a template or checklist to make sure you have all elements required under the Academic Courses Policy, as well as those recommended.
  • If you plan to make changes to the syllabus once students have access, give students as much notice as possible about these changes.
  • While syllabi often at least start with a formal tone about rules and regulations, start with a message to your students about the need for flexibility, and recognition that this is likely not the format that the students registered for. Acknowledge that this is a challenging situation for everyone. You may find some ideas in the principles an instructor at UNC – Chapel Hill created for sharing with his students.
  • You final exam / assessment will likely be different than it would have otherwise been. The U of S has new requirements on what you can and cannot do for final exams. Provide as much information for your students about your assessments, including the final exam within the syllabus. See the page on Final Exams and Course Assessments on the Teaching and Learning website.
  • Include times and methods of communication for office hours.
  • Include information of any required resources. Consider the cost and accessibility of materials as students worry even more than usual about their financial situation and can’t simply walk into the campus Bookstore. If you would like to discuss the use of open educational resources for your course, please contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.
  • If you will be giving any marks for participation, be explicit about what participation will look like in the class (ie. participation on discussion forums)
  • In addition to the information about Access and Equity Services (AES) currently in the syllabus template, add a link to the AES webpage (PDF) specifically related to supports accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you have any additional questions about constructing your course syllabi, please contact Heather Ross at the GMCTL.