Medical Education Technology and Evaluation

Syllabus Guidelines: Elements and Design

Etymology and Definition:

Syllabus: late Latin, an alteration of Latin sillybus - label for a book, from Greek sillybos.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines syllabus as a statement of the subjects covered by a course of instruction or by an examination,in a school,college, etc.; a programme of study.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictonary, it is a summary outline of a discourse,treatise, or course of study or of examination requirements. states that a syllabus is an outline or a summary of the main points of a text, lecture, or course of study.


Consider the syllabus a contract between you and your students. By reading the syllabus,the student should gain a clear understanding of the goals of the course,what activities they need to engage in to achieve the course objectives and how they will be graded. A well-written syllabus avoids problems that can occur because of misunderstandings. Should problems arise,the syllabus is proof that your expectations were clear at the beginning of the class.

Major Content Areas of a Syllabus:

There are many excellent references available on what constitutes a well designed syllabus and these are available in print format and online. Howard B. Altman and William E.Cashinin "Writing a Syllabus.IdeaPaperNo.27", Kansas State University,1992, identified the major content areas that almost all agree should be part of a syllabus:

  1. Course Information-course title,course number and credit hours along with location,days and time(s)the class meets. Include also whether there are prerequisites for your course and if permission of the instructor is required.
  2. Instructor Information-full name, title, office location/contact. It is a good idea to include any teaching assistants or other instructors and how to contact them.
  3. Text, Readings, Materials - your syllabus should include detailed information about:
    1. Textbook(s) - include the title, author, date and edition, publisher, cost, and where to purchase.
    2. Supplementary readings-indicate whether recommended or required and whether the readings are on reserveat the library or available for purchase(and where).
    3. Materials - include in your syllabus any special items or software necessary, including lab equipment, etc.
  4. Course Description/Objectives-while you may have developed detailed instructional objectives, you may want to limit the information overload by providing a general overviewof the course's goals. A paragraph describing the general content,why the course is important and what the student will obtain from your course- development of skills,learning and application of the principles of, etc. - is a good starting point. Clarity of your expectations and purpose of the course is essential.
  5. Course Calendar/Schedule-when possible,it is always a good idea to provide your students with a schedule of the topics that are to be covered and dates for exams,quizzes or other means of assessing you may utilize. Don\\'t forget to include due dates for major assignments and any required special events!
  6. Course Policies-it is recommended that you include your policies on attendance,lateness,class participation,missed exams or assignments(can they be made up?)and itis always a good idea to address questions related to cheating and plagiarism. While a reference to the honesty pledge each student makes upon entering the SOM is a good idea,details in your syllabus on academic dishonesty should be included.
  7. Grading-while you can include this under Course Policies, it is probably best to treat it as a separate content area. Each syllabus should include what factors will be included, how they will be weighted and how they translate into grades. This, of course, includes evaluation of the student\'s performance.
  8. Available Support Services-most students are aware of the support services available such as MedEDTech, the library and Tutorial but there is no harm in reiterating in your syllabus the resources available.

UCSD SOM Core Curriculum Committee (CCC):

Now thatyouhave the basic information to develop a well-written syllabus,you will need to consider what are the requirements specific to the SOM. The CCC recommends the following:

  1. Learning Objectives-Each course and clerkship must have a list of specific subject matters to be covered and clearly defined learning objectives. For clerkships, there should be a list of principal tasks that students should be able to perform satisfactorily at the end of the clerkship.
  2. Student Requirements - Student course/clerkship requirements must be identified and clearly stated. For clerkships:students must be informed of what they are expected to accomplish in terms of patient write-ups,case presentations and other projects for different clinical settings (e.g.,outpatient,inpatient) must be communicated to students.
  3. Teaching Methods-should be described in the syllabus. Faculty should set the number of hours spent in clinical venues,lectures,small group discussion sections,laboratories and describe any other teaching modality employed.
  4. Evaluation Criteria-grading policies of the course/clerkship should be included in the syllabus. Clearly defined criteria for both honors and passing grades should be specified. Students should be informed of the curricular elements that must be completed to pass the course/clerkship and be eligible for honors grades.
  5. Reading Assignments - the CCC recommends that all clerkships and courses include reading assignments.

There are Core Course and Clinical Clerkship Guidelines approved by the CCC and additional syllabus guidelines can be found in these guidelines:

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