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Section 2.2: Create an Effective Online Syllabus

For virtual classroom courses, the syllabus is the skeleton that articulates the course. It is the most important page in an online course. It serves as both menu and home page. It lays out the schedule, requirements, and activities of the whole course. It is the one place where learners can find all the requirements of the course. The syllabus may be long, but it should be clearly organized and attractively formatted (Horton, 2006, p. 481).

The syllabus is the most “valuable document” in an online course. The syllabus is the road map directing the student to everything they need to be successful in the course. An overview of the course and a “context for activities” should be placed within the syllabus.

“Students tend to feel somewhat disoriented without the familiar first-day speeches from the instructor, and they may wonder if any of the same old rules will apply in this new online territory” (Ko & Rossen, 2004, p. 65). To avoid confusion and frustration the syllabus must be thorough and detailed. Instructions the online instructor would verbally provide in a face-to-face classroom when covering the syllabus must be clearly written in the online syllabus. Doing so will allow the online student to focus on course content rather than bombarding the online instructor with questions.

Below is a potential situation that can occur in an online environment when the time zone is not clearly stated in the syllabus (Ko et al., p. 66):

One student even had a grade dispute with the instructor that arose from an ambiguity in the syllabus. In the syllabus, the instructor had declared that all late assignments would be penalized at the rate of one quarter grade point each day, but hadn’t clearly specified that the due dates for assignments were based on the instructor’s time zone, not the student’s. Thus the student claimed that, when he posted an assignment at 11:00 P.M., Pacific time, on the due date, he was unfairly penalized because the server on which the course was housed, located (like the instructor) on the East Coast of the United States, had recorded the time as 2:00 A.M. the following day.

However, the online syllabus should not be so lengthy it intimidates and overwhelms the online student. It can be difficult to foresee all issues to include in a syllabus before the online course begins. As issues arise during the course of the semester, the announcement and discussion forum sections in Blackboard or email can be used to notify students of any changes or modifications.

Angelo State University Online Syllabus Template (updated Jan 2016)

*** Please download word document and insert your course information.

Online Syllabus Checklist: Essential Elements for an Effective Online Syllabus

Instructor Info

  • Instructor name
  • Instructor contact information (included preferred contact method)
  • Office hours (Virtual office hours): Your availability for real time chat – Skype, MS Communicator, Phone, etc.

Course information

  • Name of document: Syllabus
  • Course title, course number and section, semester and year
  • Course description
  • Purpose of the course
  • Prerequisites or special technical requirements for the course

Content & Objectives

  • IDEA objectives - (Learning Outcomes Syllabus Model)
  • Student learning outcome/assessments
  • Course textbook(s), additional readings, online resources

Online Learning Environment

  • Accessing course web site
  • Contact information for technical support
  • Note the time requirements to be successful in an online learning environment. Refer students to the Online Learner Self-Assessment Survey

Grading & Assignments

  • Explanation of grading criteria and components of total grade
  • Provide instructions for how to submit assignments; how to label the emails; what kinds of documents will you accept.
  • List quizzes, exams, graded assignments, discussion forums and forms of class participation with grade percentages or points.
  • Criteria for a passing grade
  • Policies on late assignments

Learning Activities

  • How the online classroom is organized
  • Participation standard: minimum number of postings per week in discussion and any standards for quality of participation.
  • Student responsibilities

Course outline and schedule (Note: Schedule can be a separate document)

  • Week-by-week schedule: topics, assignments, readings, quizzes, activities, and web resources for each week with specific DUE dates


  • General class policies such as netiquette
  • Religious observances
  • Academic integrity
  • Incompletes
  • Special needs


Include grading rubrics for all assignments or make note that grading rubrics will be provided within the Blackboard course.

Note on Linking

Whenever possible link to material mentioned in your syllabus, so students will not have to search for the information. Use persistent external web links in your syllabus and other materials. Persistent links are less likely to be removed or relocated. Highly cited resources and stable organizations most likely have persistent links. Check the links in your material each semester to make sure they still work, and provide students with multiple links for the same type of information (Horton, 2006).