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How to read a syllabus

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What is a Syllabus?

A course syllabus is a document created by instructors to give students all the information they need about a course. It is a contact sheet, guide and course preview. It gives you a course description, an outline of assignments and due dates, test dates, material to be covered, and more.

Your professor will probably hand out and review the syllabus the first day of class to make everything about the course clear, and answer any questions. Most of your course syllabi are also online, in case you lose your copy.

What is in a Syllabus?

Component   Description
Title Page

Course number, semester and year, number of credits,meeting time and location, instructor information (name, office location, office hours, contact information).

Calendar Description   A brief introduction to the course: scope, purpose and relevance of material.

Learning Outcomes 

Skills and knowledge students will gain.
Pre-Requisites Courses students need to have taken before this one; pre-requisite skill sets ( programming languages, familiarity with software).
Course Restrictions

Situations that would prevent a student from taking this course (not including prerequisites); eg. if a student cannot hold credit for both this course and another course)

Co-requisite A course that must be taken at the same time as the course you are taking right now.
Texts / Materials Required or optional books (with authors, editions, and ISBNs), reserve readings, course readers, software, and supplies with information about where they can be obtained.
Delivery Method How the instructor plans on delivering the course information such as lecture, small group discussion, demonstrations, etc. Also, what forms of learning technology will the instructor utilize such as videoconferencing, D2L, etc.
Course Website Provides the URL and describes how to access the course website, if applicable.
Student Evaluation What the final grade will be based on. There is usually a breakdown of components and an explanation of the instructor's grading policies (e.g., weighting of grades, curves, extra-credit options, the possibility of dropping the lowest grade).
Supplemental Exam Availability

Indicates whether a Supplemental Exam is available for this course.

Voluntary Withdrawal Date

A student wishing to withdraw from this course must forward a completed UCN Registration Revision form to Enrolment Services by the last date for voluntary withdrawal without academic penalty.

Other Important Dates   Other dates listed by the Instructor.
Course Topics Explanation of the topical organization of the course.
Special Course Activities Special activities such as tours, field trips, or demonstrations are described.
Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition

Students may request formal recognition, i.e. course credit, of relevant knowledge, skills and abilities gained through prior work, education and life experience.  This process is known as Prior Learning Assessment & Recognition (PLAR).  To apply for recognition of prior learning, or to obtain more information about PLAR, please contact the PLAR Facilitator in Enrolment Services.

Academic Honesty Academic dishonesty is a very serious offence with severe consequences. UCN's Statement of Academic Honesty (AC-01-19) is stated along with the penalties for academic dishonesty.

How to Use a Syllabus

Your ability to read and understand a syllabus can incresae your chances of success in your classes. Each syllabus will be slightly different, but within those pages you'll find all the information needed to gain a clear understanding of what's expected of you.

Look for Specific Information

  • Instructor's name, office location, phone number, email address, office hours
  • Course objectives or learning outcomes
  • List of reading material
  • Grading Policies
  • Important dates, such as readings, quizzes, papers, and exams.

Understand Your Instructor's Expectations

The syllabus is an excellent source of information about your professor's expectations. The syllabus will contain information related to classroom behavior, participation in classroom discussions, policies on absences, and penalties for turning paper in late. Some professors also include policies in their syllabi regarding cell phone use, eating in class or chewing gum. If your instructor has a made a note about it in the syllabus, you can be assured it's important to him/her that you respond appropriately.

Student Resources

UCN Claim I D and Password Reset
FABS Online Writing Support
UCNLearn - access your online classes
Learners' Assistance Centre