Course Syllabus Best Practices

Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - 9:30am

Use Google Docs

We recommend that you use Google Docs to create your course syllabus rather than a Word doc or PDF.

Google Docs allows you to generate a “live” link to the document that automatically updates each time you make an edit. Here’s how to get a shareable link that students can view-- but not edit--your syllabus and link to it from your Canvas homepage.

This practice makes your course site easier to maintain, so you do not have to download and re-upload a new syllabus each time you make changes. It also allows you to easily share your syllabus with colleagues and with your department.


Format for accessibility

Formatting for accessibility means that your students will quickly be able to find the information they need, whether they read with their ears or with their eyes.

These four digital accessibility practices will make your syllabus more accessible:

  1. Format headings using paragraph styles rather than manually changing their appearance. Make headings succinct, predictable and student-focused (e.g., “Grading” rather than “Assessment”).
  2. Embed hyperlinks in the words that describe where the link leads (e.g., Disability Resource Center, not
  3. Use bulleted and numbered lists wherever possible
  4. Provide alternative text or captions for any images that you’ve added to your syllabus

Read more about creating an accessible syllabus and creating an accessible Google Doc.


A scannable course schedule

A course schedule gives students a quick overview of the arc of the course, including major due dates. You needn’t put all the details of your course readings into the course schedule--that’s what the Canvas site is for!

But, you can provide a table that shows briefly the dates, major topics, and major graded activities across the semester. See an example of a scannable course schedule.


Using Google Docs with Canvas Syllabus

The Syllabus tool that’s available in your Canvas course menu is like a regular course page with a super power: it automatically generates a course summary comprised of all the activities you’ve attached due dates to--and, by extension, it shows activities with no due date at the bottom of the list.

We like the fact that the Syllabus link (when activated in your course menu) is visible to students no matter where they are in your course, but we don’t like the long list of deadlines it generates in courses that have a lot of assignments, nor the fact that the items in the list can’t be chunked with headings to help make it more manageable for students.

However, we’ve seen some instructors successfully use the Syllabus tool in conjunction with their Google Docs syllabus, simply by providing links to the Google Docs syllabus from the Syllabus link on the course menu.


Pro tip

Add a table of contents to the top of your syllabus so students can be directed to the correct section without having to scroll through the whole document.