Guideline 5-19: Curriculum Design and Instructional Effectiveness
Elements of a Course Syllabus
The course syllabus is the key document in defining each course in the college curriculum. Each syllabus is composed of the sections listed below.
The following information appears on the title page of each syllabus:
- The name San Jacinto College,
- The word "Syllabus,"
- The course name and number,
- The date of revision,
- The dated signature of one personnel member from each campus who participated in the preparation of that syllabus,
- The dated signatures and titles of administrators who confirmed that the syllabus was developed according to the established procedures and that it meets the college's requirements.
Heading for the Syllabus
The first page of the syllabus begins with a heading that includes the course title and course number.
The first major section of the syllabus is the purpose statement, a brief explanation of why the college teaches the course, how it contributes to addressing the goals of the department and of the college curriculum as a whole.
This section includes the following:
- A verbatim copy of the course description as it appears in the college catalog,
- An expanded description of the course that gives more detailed information about the contents and general structure of the course,
- The number of weekly lecture hours and (if applicable) lab hours,
- The number of credit hours, and
- A list of any prerequisites and/or co-requisites that are listed in the college catalog.
Student Learning Outcomes
This section identifies measurable skills and abilities that the student develops in the course. The course learning outcomes relate the specific contents of that course to the general goals of the department and also to the college philosophy and learning outcomes statements that appear in the catalog.
This section indicates any learning activities that the department faculty deem so fundamental that they must be part of all sections of the course, and it also suggests other activities that instructors may want to consider using to address the course learning outcomes effectively.
Each syllabus establishes the broad parameters within which an instructor's grading system for that specific course must fall. Grading systems for all courses at the college must include at least two major grades. A final exam is required for all courses. Beyond these basic requirements, the department faculty defines any limits on grading flexibility that seem necessary to assure overall consistency in addressing the goals of each specific course.
In order to evaluate a course, administrators and faculty compile what is basically an inventory of data that indicate the results of offering and teaching that particular course. The college depends primarily on the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation to make long-term studies of how well the college curriculum and instruction work. As they become available, such studies become part of the outcomes inventory. Listed in this section are ways in which the department will evaluate the success of the course each semester. Basic to this evaluation are the samples of student work that are turned in to instructional supervisors at the end of each semester. For each course, the department faculty determines what types of work and how much should be submitted. This section may also define any other data that the department faculty thinks will provide evidence of the actual success of the course.
Each syllabus contains some indication of how the course material is presented throughout the semester. The department faculty decides how specific this section should be to assure that course instruction is appropriately consistent. For many courses, a general statement that gives minimal guidelines about course timing and emphasis suffices. In other cases, department faculty may choose to be more rigid about establishing in the syllabus a schedule of topics and/or assignments.
The final section of each syllabus indicates the materials required for the course and those which may be used at the instructor's discretion.
All required textbooks and special materials are listed and clearly identified as required. If there is no required text, that should be made clear. Supplementary texts are listed and are identified as "special required" or "non-required" according to the definitions in the textbook-adoption policy.
The college encourages instructors to assign additional readings to their students. If it chooses, the department faculty may add to the syllabus a list of suggested supplemental readings. Instructors will then have that list to use for reference in making reading assignments from sources other than the course textbooks.
The college curriculum represents the manner in which the college responds to the needs of its communities. Faculty have the central role in designing the curriculum of San Jacinto College. In order to encourage faculty innovation in curriculum design and to expedite curriculum decisions, the vice-chancellor of business and industry and a task force of faculty are redesigning the curriculum-development processes of the college. Faculty and all other employees are encouraged to contact the members of the various task force committees on their campuses for current information regarding progress in this project. Information regarding curriculum change procedures is available in the offices of the vice-presidents of instruction and the associate deans.
The course syllabus for each course is the product of the collective professional judgment of the appropriate faculty on all three campuses. Consequently, it is the most important single document in determining the content, structure, and expected student learning outcomes for the course. It drives all other curriculum-related issues such as selecting textbooks and preparing beginning-of-class information handouts. In other words, faculty select textbooks which are most capable of helping students achieve the expected learning outcomes, rather than structure syllabi to conform to textbooks. Also, the expected student learning outcomes section of the syllabus reappears verbatim in the beginning-of-course handouts, so that faculty explain that these outcomes are the students' basic learning objectives for the course.
Syllabus revision is the periodic process, following syllabus review, by which actual changes are made. Ordinarily, a faculty panel representing all three campuses both reviews and revises the syllabus. Either the department chairs or committee members themselves select a committee chair to call meetings and organize committee activities.
Steps in the Process:
- Members of the faculty panel make every effort to understand and convey the points of view of the faculty from their campuses. The role of associate deans and department chairmen varies slightly from discipline to discipline, but instructional supervisors have the general role of facilitating the panel's progress and may participate directly in it.
- The syllabus draft is prepared and submitted to the associate deans for their study and comment. The syllabus review conducted by the associate deans focuses primarily on the extent to which the course is in keeping with the college's statements of philosophy, purpose, and student learning outcomes. After the associate deans have determined that all required elements are present, the draft syllabus is presented to the district department faculty for discussion.
- The syllabus is presented to the district department faculty for approval. As is the case with the process of approving a new syllabus, every effort is made to come to a consensus regarding the syllabus, but if agreement by consensus is not possible, then the district department faculty will vote, each campus having one vote. The result of this decision is binding on all faculty in that department in the college district.
- Should faculty decline to approve the revised syllabus, the form of the syllabus before revision will be in force until agreement is reached about the revisions. No syllabus will be used as a basis for instruction without approval of the faculty.
- If a faculty consensus is reached or if a majority of the faculty approve, the revised syllabus is signed by the three department chairmen and associate deans as indication that they agree that the syllabus is effective and appropriate. Copies of the official syllabus will be sent to the vice chancellor of business, industry, and technology and to the vice presidents of instruction. The revised syllabus becomes the official syllabus at the beginning of the next long term.
Selecting textbooks is one of the most important tasks in which faculty participate because the use of textbooks is basic to almost every course. Since textbooks are adopted district-wide, a district procedure specifies precise steps to be followed. Although the procedures may seem complex at first, they are quite manageable when followed carefully a step-at-a-time over a period of several weeks or months. Following the steps has the additional benefit of providing an orderly manner by which personnel reach a collective decision.
Guidelines for Courses Offered on All Three Campuses
District Required Books:
All books adopted district-wide, whether they be core textbooks, laboratory manuals, workbooks, or others, are classified as district required books. Also the term applies regardless of whether one, two, or three campuses are involved, since a district process as specified in the Book Adoption Guidelines has been followed.
Special Required Books:
All books required of all students enrolled in a particular course taught by an individual instructor, in addition to the district required book, are classified as special required books.
All books which are optional because students may choose to purchase them in order to supplement or enhance their learning in a particular course and which students are not required to purchase are classified as non-required books.
Guidelines for the selection of textbooks are available in the offices of the vice-presidents of instruction on all three campuses. Faculty follow these guidelines as they make decisions regarding textbook selection for the courses offered by the college.