Syllabus Design

icon of instructor in front of a laptop with images depicting a syllabus

Your syllabus and your Canvas site fit together to make your course welcoming and easy for your students to navigate. Information in your syllabus and on your Canvas site should not conflict. Once you have a complete and up-to-date syllabus, you have most of what you need to build your Canvas site.

Expand all

Where to Begin: Course-level Considerations


Make your course structure more transparent to your students by including course-level objectives in your syllabus. Use CEI’s Aligned Course Design Guide to help you connect each unit and assignment to a course-level objective. 


Your syllabus should identify the modality of your course: online, hybrid, hyflex, remote, or in-person, and make clear what kind of attendance is expected. Students use the UMN Class Format Guide (requires UMN authentication) to understand how each course they are registered for will be taught. The Carlson School of Management has a Course Modalities guide that helps students understand what to expect in the classroom.


"Accessibility is an intentional priority from conception to create an equitable experience. An accessibility approach removes barriers at the system level for as many people as possible."

Angela Carter, Associate Director for Racial and Social Justice

As you put together your syllabus, consider the accessible practices you would like to incorporate, such as flexible due dates orassignments that offer students a choice of tools or modes to demonstrate their competence. Learn how to Maximize Student Access and Success by Using Canvas Due Dates. Include a statement in support of accessibility in your syllabus. Use the Accessible Syllabus Checklist to evaluate and improve the accessibility of your syllabus. 


The syllabus helps set the tone for the semester. Here are some suggestions for making a syllabus welcoming to students: 

  • Include a statement supporting inclusiveness and the University’s policy on Equity, Diversity, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (PDF) in your syllabus.
  • Address students conversationally with "I" and "you" language, the way you would talk to them in person
  • Include a statement about your teaching and learning philosophy and how it relates to this class
  • First-year students may not know about office hours. Make sure they know you will be glad to speak to them during that time.
  • Enhance the syllabus with visual elements, such as a banner picture (with alt text) and colorful headings with proper contrast.
  • Keep the syllabus up to date

Elements of a Syllabus

The syllabus sets up the formal expectations of the course, laying out what the instructor promises to do and what the student must do to succeed. Students rely on this information, so it must be clear, up-to-date, and consistent with the course site. 

Course Information

The course syllabus includes a course overview, course objectives, information about the course instructors, general course schedule, requirements, assessments, grading, university policies, and student resources. 

Course Modality

Is the course in person only, in person and online (hybrid), in person or online - students’ choice (hyflex), entirely online with synchronous meetings (remote), or entirely online and asynchronous (online). Explain the expectations for attendance.

First-day Attendance

For online courses, state what activity students must complete to remain enrolled in the class, such as an online introduction (see FAQ answer #3 in Mandatory Attendance Policy).

Workload Expectations

Guidance is given for how many hours students should spend per week working on the course material and how often they should visit the Canvas site.

Synchronous Meetings

If the course includes synchronous meetings, make sure that is clearly communicated in the syllabus.

Expectations for Updates 

The syllabus is kept up-to-date throughout the course and includes a statement that sets this expectation and how students will be made aware of updates. Use of Canvas Announcements is a good method to keep students up to date. 

Examples of Syllabi Illustrating Good Practices

What form should a syllabus take?

Use of a PDF is how many instructors have shared the course syllabus with students in the past. There are two main reasons why this is NOT the best form for your course syllabus:

  1. No versatility -- once you upload the file to your course site, you can't easily change any due dates or other information on the syllabus without uploading a new PDF
  2. PDFs are difficult to read on a mobile device. 

Recommended Syllabus Formats

Canvas Syllabus Tool
Embedded or Linked Google Document
  • Updates made in the Google document are instantly updated in the course site. There is no need to upload a new file.
  • Displays clearly in the Canvas Student Mobile App
  • Allows a great deal of flexibility in displaying content


Expected Student Workload per Credit

The Expected Time per Course Credit policy for the Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris, and Rochester was revised in 2023. Please review the new policy. It  includes the statement, “All syllabi for undergraduate courses must include a student workload statement demonstrating how the course conforms to the student workload expectations.” 

Example Syllabus Language

For this X-credit online course, it is expected that students spend a minimum of 3X hours per week completing coursework (note: according to University policy, “one hour” equates to 50 minutes of time). This requirement is fulfilled through weekly modules that include recorded video lectures and other instructional videos, required readings, discussion forum questions, quizzes, and other activities.

Expected student academic work per credit

Workload for this course is based on the Expected Time per Course Credit: Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris, Rochester, which defines one undergraduate credit as 45 hours of work over the course of the semester (1 credit x 3 hours of work per week x 15 weeks in a semester equals 45 hours of academic work). Thus, in this X-credit course, you should be spending 3X hours per week on this course to earn an average grade.

Please review the Expected Time per Course Credit: Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris, Rochester and its FAQ.