When creating a syllabus, it is important to make sure that course goals and expectations are clear. However the syllabus can also be a place to get students excited to learn and to signal that your course is an inclusive environment. The following tips provide three simple ways to create a more inclusive syllabus and start your course off more positively from day one.
Why is this course interesting? What skills can students hope to gain? How does this course relate to their everyday lives? The answer to these questions can spark students' interest and prepares them to explore the content of your course. Before jumping into the technicalities of grades and policies, create a welcome message or expand your course description to include reasons that students should look forward to engaging with course content, and you as the instructor. For students who may be new to college or nervous about your course, this can help to alleviate some concerns before the course even begins
Bonus tip: consider what aspects of your course or field that you found the most interesting, this can be a great place to draw inspiration for communicating its value to students.
Instead of writing course goals as if they were simply for the professor or the course catalogue, write them for the students. Statements such as “at the end of this course you will be able to” can communicate the importance of the student in the learning process. It also implies an expectation of engagement, and speaks to each person in the class directly as opposed to referring to everyone in the course under the general category of “student”.
Bonus tip: When writing your syllabus, imagine that you are speaking directly to one student and describing what their journey through the course will look like.
Also known as a diversity and inclusion statement or a respect for diversity statement, an inclusive teaching statement signals explicitly that your course is inclusive of all students. An inclusive teaching statement should express the course climate you strive to create and invite students to be active participants. Many statements also encourage students to reach out to the faculty member if they have any concerns about the class and invite suggestions students may have to make the class better. See a few examples here.
Bonus tip: Students with disabilities pay close attention to how the disability statement is presented. If you are using a standard disability statement, consider expanding this to include language that lets students know that your goal is to support them.
Remember, a syllabus can be more than a contract! Instead, consider how it can be an important tool to communicate the value of inclusion, diversity and student success and add a positive start to your semester.
Simuelle Myers formerly served as Assistant Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. She is now Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Delaware County Community College.