In order for a course to be successful there must be a strong plan behind its delivery. The syllabus as a document defines and communicates that plan to students in a meaningful way. Crafting a well organized syllabus is critical not simply for establishing course policies and deadlines, but for setting student expectations and conveying what is important to you as an instructor.

Many instructors think of the syllabus as a contract between student and instructor. In this sense it is a formal document that establishes what the student can expect from the instructor and what the instructor in turn expects from the students. Instructors may have differing ideas about changing a syllabus after it has been shown to students, but if you do make changes (such as a new recommended text, changes to assignments etc.) take extra steps to be transparent about the changes and your reasoning for them. To avoid unnecessary changes to the syllabus over the course of the semester, endeavor to strike a balance between providing sufficient details for students and leaving yourself some degree flexibility. Adjustments to scheduling are often unavoidable, but changes to grading policies or increasing the number of assignments have the potential to be seen as unfair.

Though some might think of the syllabus as an early part of designing a course, in that it needs to be ready on the first day of class, the syllabus is actually the culmination of many course design decisions that must first be made. Only once you have planned learning objectives, assignments, and assessments, then you can begin the actual construction of your syllabus. Looking at other syllabi, particularly from other instructors within your department, can be valuable.

As part of an effort to assist faculty in creating a strong plan and developing consistency across programs at the Institute, all faculty are being asked to use a common format for course syllabi. MGH Institute has created a new standardized IHP Course Syllabus Template to be used as the common format. The syllabus template includes all required syllabus elements with blank and pre-populated fields. 

Further ReadingUniversity of Michigan on Creating Your Syllabus