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Syllabus preparation and language

(Updated January 2022)

The university has relaxed some of the safety restrictions it put in place during 2020, but some remain in place. The Protect KU site has the most recent information. Of note are that:

  • Instructors are not obligated to construct online versions of in-person classes for individual students. Students are expected to work with an advisor to find suitable course options that will help them stay on track. 
  • Instructors determine the attendance policies for their courses, but they will still need a flexible mindset about attendance, participation and engagement.
  • KU no longer requires use of the CVkey app for entering campus buildings

​It is still important that instructors set clear expectations for students and themselves in their syllabi. The syllabus lays out your expectations for when and how you expect students to engage with your course. It also explains the quality of work you expect from students, the climate you want to promote, and the policies that students are expected to follow. The panel to the right provides a checklist of topics to include in your syllabus to create a clear path for success for students. More information about many of those elements can be found on the CTE website.  Members of the Teaching and Learning, Academic Success, and Faculty Success 2020 Design Teams and the CTE Faculty Consultant Network have also developed these suggestions for expectations and policies that instructors should consider:

Safety, health and masks in the classroom. The Protect KU webpage provides information about safety policies and masks. Here is some language about masks in the classroom that you could include in your syllabus: 

Example Language:

“To protect all of us, everyone must wear a mask in the classroom as required by the Protect KU Pledge and by University policy. Violations of the mask policy in classrooms are treated as academic misconduct. If you come to class without a mask, I will ask you to put one on. If you do not put on a mask when asked, you will have to leave class. Violations will be reported, and consequences will follow, up to and including suspension from the course.”

Sample downloadable Powerpoint slides for your use during the first day of class, emphasizing health and safety, and the need to wear masks in the classroom. 

Illness and classroom attendance. Protecting the health and safety of students and instructors during the pandemic will require clear expectations about when not to come to class and how students can continue with their coursework. Syllabus language will depend on the strategies you adopt for motivating and providing credit for attendance and participation. Instructors need a flexible mindset about attendance, participation and engagement while still encouraging students to attend class.

Instructors determine and control the attendance policies for their courses. Students are responsible for communicating in a timely manner if they are unable to attend because of illness. Instructors are encouraged to consider alternative forms of absence verification (perhaps just an email that they are ill) rather than a doctor's note. Students may be sufficiently ill that they need to miss a class but do not need the care of a physician. Requiring a doctor's note adds additional burdens to an already strained health care system. This page provides more recommendations about how to offer flexibility with attendance while encouraging (and tracking) student participation. 

Example language: 

The knowledge and skills you will gain in this course highly depend on your participation in class activities. Because of that, I expect you to attend all class sessions unless you are ill or have a valid reason for missing. I plan to track class attendance to help me understand how and when students are engaging in the course. If you are unable to attend class, contact me by email in advance of the absence. 

If illness prevents you from completing assignments on time or otherwise participating in class, please let me know. I will do whatever I can to support your success. 

If you are having any difficulties meeting the requirements for the course and are thinking about dropping, please reach out to me. I would like to hear about what you are struggling with so I can try to find a way for you to meet the outcomes of the course.

Accommodations for Disabilities. In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as amended, the Student Access Center recommends all teaching staff include a statement on each course syllabus inviting students with disabilities to request reasonable accommodations. The center has developed a sample statement instructors can include on course syllabi, below: 

Example language:

The Student Access Center coordinates academic accommodations and services for all eligible KU students with disabilities. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodations and have not contacted the Student Access Center, please do so as soon as possible. The center is located in 22 Strong Hall and can be reached at 785-864-4064 (V/TTY). Information about its services can be found at www.access.ku.edu. Please contact me privately in regard to your needs in this course.

Diversity and Inclusion. Demonstrations of systemic racism, protests over police brutality and heightened political tensions make addressing diversity and inclusion in our classes more important than ever. This syllabus language is based on language developed by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016. The CTE website has more examples and resources. 

Example Language:

Diversity and Inclusion. The University of Kansas supports an inclusive learning environment in which diversity and individual differences are understood, respected, and appreciated. We believe that all students benefit from training and experiences that will help them to learn, lead, and serve in an increasingly diverse society. All members of our campus community must accept the responsibility to demonstrate civility and respect for the dignity of others. Expressions or actions that disparage a person’s or group’s race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, or disability are contrary to the mission of the University. We expect that KU students, faculty, and staff will promote an atmosphere of respect for all members of our KU community. This is an inclusive classroom. At KU, administrators, faculty, and staff are committed to the creation and maintenance of inclusive learning spaces. These are classrooms, labs, and other places of learning where you will be treated with respect and dignity and where all individuals are provided equitable opportunity to participate, contribute, and succeed.

Guidelines for Online Etiquette. Set the stage for meaningful discussions and a productive class climate by developing guidelines for class participation and meaningful discourse. Guidelines for online interactions may look a lot like those for in-person interactions. Discussion forums and other types of asynchronous interactions call for specific "netiquette" guideliness. Here are two examples of netiquette guidelines for online instruction.

Student Support, Mental Health, and Self-Care. Share student support resources in your syllabus or course site, including medical, counseling and mental health services, and support for international students. You can find more information about those resources in the Supporting the Whole Student section of this site. Consider including suggestions on self-care. Here is an example from a syllabus for one of Susan Marshall's psychology courses:

Example Language:

How to be OK . In case you haven’t noticed, there is a global pandemic. None of us is really “OK.” If you tell me you are having trouble, I’m not going to judge you or think less of you. I hope you will extend me the same grace. Here are some ground rules:

  • You never owe me personal information about your health (mental or physical), or anything else.  
  • However, you are always welcome to talk to me about things that you might be going through.  
  • If I can’t help you, I will try to direct you to KU resources for assistance. 
  • If you need extra help, please … just ask! I will listen and will work with you. 

Family Friendly Course Policies. With the pandemic's disruptions to schooling and childcare, consider a family-friendly syllabus statement. This one was adapted by Jennifer Delgado (Physics) from a resource at Oregon State

Example Language: 

Policy on Children in Class: It is my belief that if we want parents in academia, that we should also expect children to be present in some form. The policy described here is a reflection of my own beliefs and commitments to student, staff and faculty parents.  

  1. All exclusively breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary to support the breastfeeding relationship. Because not all lactating parents can pump sufficient milk, and not all babies will take a bottle reliably, I never want students to feel like they have to choose between feeding their baby and continuing their education. You and your nursing baby are welcome in class anytime.
  2. For older children and babies, I understand that unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in the position of having to chose between missing class or leaving a child with someone you or the child does not feel comfortable with. Please know that children (and pets) are welcome in our online meetings. 
  3. In all cases where babies and children attend class, I ask that if your little one needs special attention or is disrupting learning for other students, you mute your microphone and turn off your video until their need has been met.  
  4. I ask that all students work with me to create a welcoming environment that is respectful of all forms of diversity, including diversity in parenting status. 
  5. Finally, I understand that often the largest barrier to completing your coursework once you become a parent is the tiredness many parents feel in the evening once children have finally gone to sleep. The struggles of balancing school, childcare and often another job are exhausting! I hope that you will feel comfortable disclosing your student-parent status to me. This is the first step in my being able to accommodate any special needs that arise. While I maintain the same high expectations for all student in my classes regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem solve with you in a way that makes you feel supported as you strive for school-parenting balance. Thank you for the diversity you bring to our class!   


Syllabus Checklist

Here is a checklist of key elements to include on your syllabus or course site:

  1. Basic information: Course title and number, semester and year of course, meeting time and place, faculty information, course description, prerequisites
  2. Course goals, learning outcomes and objectives. How does course fulfill requirements for degree?
  3. Course materials: Textbooks, readings, required supplies, equipment (e.g, computer, calculator, iClicker, wifi, whiteboard marker), platforms and how to access them (e.g, Canvas, Zoom, Teams.) 
  4. Assignments, term papers, exams, etc..
  5. Student evaluation and grades
  6. Communication expectations: how and when instructor can be reached
  7. Options for students with special needs
  8. Diversity and Inclusion statement
  9. Course calendar and schedule.Consider including drop dates and key universitywide deadlines listed on the registrar's site.
  10. Expectations and course policies such as those related to safety, health and masks; attendance and participation; illness and make-up work; student academic success and personal needs, and academic misconduct.

These are just recommendations. Don't try to cram everything into a syllabus. Instead, refer students to additional information on the learning management system (Canvas or Blackboard) or other KU sites. Try to make your syllabus as clear, concise, and easy to read as possible. Students are unlikely to read an overly long or legalistic syllabus, and they will miss important information about a course.