Syllabus Policies Matter

tpw-classrulesAt the beginning of every term, I include what feels like far too many policies that will govern the course. The syllabus is essentially the contract for the course, so it can be critical that all of the guidelines you will use are outlined clearly and discussed during the first week of class.

Example Policies

You can check the syllabus for any of my courses for my exact phrasing. Generally, I include a policy for each of these topics:

  • Communication Guidelines (email address and response times)
  • Online Office Hours
  • Participation (with details on who to contact for absences)
  • Work Guidelines (Honor System and Principles of Community)
  • Late Policy
  • Religious Holidays
  • Backups
  • Equal Access and Opportunity
  • Grading

And if that’s not enough, I plan on adding a Class Cancellation Policy the next time I teach. You can find more information about policies in the Virginia Tech Faculty Handbook section “Chapter 09 – Instruction-Related Policies.”

Why It Matters

Let me share a story from this term to demonstrate the value of spelling everything out ahead of time. About mid-April, I received an email from a student who had never submitted any of the major projects in my tech writing class. It was my first direct contact from the student. Fortunately, I was able to pull out the class syllabus and point to the specific policies that governed the situation:

  • You must complete all major assignments and requirements in order to pass this course.
  • You will receive a zero for any work that is not submitted by the deadline.There are no extensions on deadlines. [Note that I have a very generous late policy]
  • Class participation in online forum discussions and in all assignments is required.
  • If you miss a deadline because of an illness, death in the family, or family emergency, see the Student Advocacy page from the Dean of Students Office for details on how to document the situation.
  • If you have an issue that affects your ability to complete the course, you may qualify for Academic Relief. For personal medical issues, contact the Schiffert Health Center, and for psychiatric or psychological issues, contact the Cook Counseling Center.

These policies covered me when I had to justify why the student could not pass the course at this point in the term. Admittedly, I include a lot of policies on my syllabus, but I have learned from situations like this one that a lot of rules up front saves me from a lot of frustration later in the term.


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