Constructing a Course Outline or Syllabus

A course outline is a document that benefits students and instructors. It is an essential piece when designing any course. The course outline has a few purposes.

A syllabus is a planning tool. Writing it guides the instructor’s development of the course. Through the development of a syllabus, instructors can set course goals, develop student learning objectives, create and align assessment plans, as well as establish a schedule for the course.

A course outline or syllabus also works as a guide for students. By setting course goals and student learning outcomes, you are informing students about the materials they will engage. The schedule also tells students what expectations are had of them and provides a timeline of these expectations.

Finally, a course outline also works as a reference for colleagues, administrators, and accreditation agencies. It allows others to see what you are doing in your course, and what is expected of your students. In some cases, others may refer to your course outline to determine what skills students should have after completing your course. Related courses that utilize your course as a prerequisite or co-requisite will likely build on the outcomes mapped out in your current course outline.


When creating your course outline there are some essential pieces that you need to include


Course Description from the Academic Calendar

The University Calendar has a description of your course that gets published every year. It is a good idea to take a look at this description because this may be the description your students are using to determine if they wish to take your course or not.

Course Goals

What are the big ideas that you are going to cover in your course? What are the essential understandings that students will take away with them after the course has finished? It is important to define these course goals, as they will help you determine what you expect from your students, and what your students can expect from the course.

Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes

Designing outcomes is essential to designing your course and is a valuable element to have in your syllabus. The outcomes are usually statements that are verb oriented and directed at the students. For example: “Students will be able to identify key geomorphological formations on a Southern Alberta map.” This example uses the verb identify, which is a lower level thinking skill. A higher order thinking skill is incorporated in the next example: “Students will be able to read and analyze population maps interpreting any trends the data may show.”

Assessment Overview

The assessment overview is a grading guide that allows students to see what weightings can apply to the different assessment elements of a course. An example of an assessment overview is below.

Quizzes: 50%
Participation: 5%
Journal Assignments: 20%
Team Assignment: 10%
Final Exam: 15%

As well as including the overview of grading, a grading scale should be identified for the students, so they understand at what level they are performing. Grade scales can range between faculties and departments. It is best that you check with your department and faculty and use the scale they wish you to use.

Assessment Plan

Assessment plans are built in line with student learning objectives. Student learning objectives state what students will learn while your assessment plan states how you, as an instructor, will gather evidence for achievement of the objectives. The assessment plan will detail the type of assessments that will occur within the course structure, how they will be marked, and how they provide evidence of student learning. Your assessment plan will more than likely consist of multiple assessments ranging from online examinations to essays and group projects. Different assessments can and should be used to find evidence for multiple outcomes.

Plagiarism Announcement

Due to student privacy issues, if you wish to submit your student’s work through a plagiarism detection service such as Turnitin, you must inform your students that you are going to do so. Furthermore, if students request an alternative method of plagiarism detection because of privacy concerns, you must provide them with an alternate option

Schedule of Activities

This portion of the outline should be built once the plan has been made. Once you understand how you want to assess your students, you can create activities that help facilitate the learning that needs to be done to help students achieve the objectives. Course activities should work in parallel with the assessment plan. If students need to provide evidence of learning by completing a multiple choice exam, then the activities in the schedule should prepare them for this assessment. Lectures, readings, small group and whole group discussions can all be activities that help the student meet their learning objectives.

Reading List

It is a good idea to put the readings for the course within the syllabus. What you include may simply be a reference to a textbook, or it may be many references to online readings. Listed readings will allow students, administrators, and other educators see what content will is to be covered within the course. Listed readings also allow students to prepare for your course and acquire the texts needed. If the location of your readings is within a Learning Management System such as Moodle, it is still a good idea to list these readings within the syllabus.