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SP 7.00 - Course Syllabi Suggestions

Revised: August 31, 2009

The primary function of a syllabus is to communicate the instructor's expectations and standards to the students enrolled in the course. With that end in mind, below are suggestions to aid in syllabi development. Inclusion of these suggestions should (hopefully) result in fewer challenges of course grades and policies from students and in quicker resolutions, when disputes arise.

1. Specificity

The single most important element of a well-constructed and effective syllabus is specificity; good syllabi are very specific, with very few vague descriptors or statements.

  • Less effective: Students will engage in a series of public performances during School of Music hours.
  • More effective: Students will be required to perform on three (3) School of Music studio recital hours. Two of the three performances must be of solo works selected with instructor approval. One performance will be of a chamber work (ensemble and piece selected with instructor approval).

2. Describe the method used to determine final grade.

Include a grading scale (i.e. 90-100 = A, 80-89.9 = B, etc.) and the formula by which grades will be derived (i.e. mid-term exam = 25%, final exam = 25%, homework assignments = 25%, research paper = 25%).

3. Clearly articulate attendance requirements.

The University policy is published in the Academic Bulletin and states that "Absence from more than 10% of the scheduled class sessions, whether excused or unexcused, is excessive and the instructor may choose to exact a grade penalty for such absences."

The School of Music Undergraduate Handbook includes information about absences from applied music classes and ensemble rehearsals. If attendance requirements for the class differ from published policies, requirements should be clearly stated in the class syllabus.

4. Provide multiple opportunities to inform students of their progress.

It is common for students to complain that they "don't know how they are doing" in some classes. The USC Faculty Manual states that "Instructional staff members shall retain final examinations for one semester and should review graded examinations and papers with their students, if the students desire. They should grade and return examinations promptly". Is is, therefore, reasonable for us to apprise our students of their progress and, if appropriate, grade average at intervals throughout the semester.

It may be advantageous for applied teachers to keep records of the weekly lesson of each student. Some teachers routinely give each lesson a letter grade, which helps to answer grade challenges and also aids in the process of determining the final grade at the end of the semester. Read the "Statement of Policy" from The Faculty Manual to determine if any revisions in course content or classroom procedures are appropriate.

5. Include at least one outcome from the DPA Committee list.

At the beginning of each semester, the chair of the School of Music Degree Program Assessment (DPA) Committee will compile and distribute to the faculty a list of School of Music courses and corresponding learning outcomes. Each course syllabus must include at least one of the outcomes listed in the syllabus word for word, as it appears on the DPA list.

6. Submit syllabi for all courses taught to the School of Music Executive Associate Dean

Every semester, each faculty member must submit hard copies (no email or electronic files) of their syllabi for each course taught, including studio and ensemble courses, to the School of Music Executive Associate Dean. The deadline for submission is September 1 for Fall semester syllabi and February 1 for Spring semester syllabi.

7. Additional resources

A syllabus construction guide is provided in SP 6.00 - Syllabus Suggestions. More information about syllabi development can be found on the website for the USC Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). This office also provides faculty other resources useful for effective teaching, such as lesson planning guides, lecture delivery technique and assessment tools.

For more information about syllabi format or learning outcomes, faculty members are encouraged to contact the Executive Associate Dean or the chairperson of the DPA Committee. Young faculty and those new to teaching at the collegiate level are encouraged to consult senior faculty in their department, including their area coordinator.

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