Lesson 6: Syllabus Preparation for the Online Course


instructions for model airplane

Do you feel like this diagram gives specific enough instructions to carry out the task?

One of the key best-practice principles in online learning is to make your instructions EXPLICIT. This means that you make extra effort to make instructions clear and unambiguous. This takes time and a willingness to get feedback from your students.

The first set of guidelines in any class reside in the syllabus...in this document we need to be explicit about many things regarding our expectations for our students' performance, and their expectations for ours.

This lesson will explore specific aspects of your syllabus that should be taken into consideration for your online class.

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this lesson's material, Faculty will be able to:

  • Review specific instructions, expectations, and policies related to best practice in online teaching.
  • Construct a syllabus for an online course.


Research (Bozarth, Chapman, and LaMonica, 2004) supports that one of the most challenging issues in online education is an identified difference between what students are expecting and what faculty expect. These expectations lead to assumptions about behavior that is required on the part of everyone involved.

Best practice is that we are explicit, more so than in face-to-face courses, about expectations. This is regardless of how old the student is. We sometimes assume that the young generation, having grown up with digital technology, is savvy as to the real expectations in an online course, but this is not necessarily the case.

Better to ere on the side of being TOO EXPLICIT about expectations than to have students struggle (and experience frustration as a teacher) because you are not getting what you want.

In the course syllabus you have the opportunity to outline some of the very basic expectations of the course that will go a long way to managing your class effectively.

Consider including special instructions within your syllabus pertaining to the following points:

  • Availability
    • An online class gives the impression of 24/7 availability. Be explicit about which days you will be "in class" so that students have have appropriate expectations as to when you will get back to them.
  • Communication
    • Be explicit as to how you want your students to communicate with you. If you want them to use your KVCC email that is fine, if you want them to ONLY communicate with you through your course, that is fine as well. Just be clear about these expectations.
    • Make sure that you have a "back up" method for students to communicate with you if the primary method is not available.
  • Response Time
    • KVCC has expectations related to response time (emails, discussion posts, grading, etc.). In your syllabus you can outline what you expect you will be able to do. These expectations are as follows:
    • Response to email within 48 hours
    • Grading will be completed in a timely fashion (usually within a week of due dates for many assignments)
    • Participation in online discussions is strongly recommended unless there are specific pedagogical reasons to not do so
    • Faculty should be signing into the class several times per week
    • YOU should outline your own expectations explicitly within your course
  • Participation Expectations
    • This is particularly true if you have weekly discussion boards. You should be specific about how many times you expect students to log into the course.
    • You can also give them a regular "to do list"...in my classes I recommend that students check into the class every day and check "Messages," "Discussions," and "Announcements"...three tools that I use for regular communication of updates and changes to the course.
  • Assignment Expectations
    • In the syllabus you should have a description for each type of assignment that you are going to post into the class.
    • For example...if you have Chapter Quizzes, Reflection Papers, Discussions, and Tests you should have a description of your expectations for each one of these. Your expectations should outline where these items will be found in the class and basic instructions on how you want your students to engage with them.
  • Late Work, Incompletes, and Communication
    • You will want to be explicit about how late work is completed (if you allow it), your incomplete policy, and how you expect students to communicate with you in regard to requesting extensions or assistance with their course work.
  • Grading
    • You should be very clear in presenting how each aspect of the course is going to contribute to the students' final grade. Since all grades are going to go into the grade book (and all of them should), students should even be able to figure out their own grades on their own to check for accuracy. Be THAT explicit.
  • Etiquette
    • Include a section in your syllabus that addresses your expectations for civility and professional language. Students who are versed in online communities may tend to use their "Facebook Voice" in class. This might include acronyms like "LMAO" or emoticons like this :-)
    • Be explicit about whether you want these to be included in your class or not.
    • Be explicit about privacy and civility in communication...in the Internet world there is a very real harm that can arise from being "Flamed" with nasty comments. We want our online classroom to be as SAFE as our face-to-face classrooms.
    • Write explicit policies as to what will happen if people do not abide by these rules.
  • Technology Expectations
    • It is a good idea to prepare policies regarding your expectations of your students' ability to use technology. Tell them that it is their responsibility to maintain their computer and their connection to the classroom via the Internet.
    • Technological problems WILL arise...YOU cannot solve these and students taking an online class have to be very proactive about ensuring that their "vehicle" to the classroom is in good working order.
    • We are not responsible for the cars that our students use to get to our face-to-face classes, we are equally not responsible for the computers (and Internet access) that get our students to our online classrooms.


Bozarth, J., Chapman, D.D., & LaMonica, L. (2004). Preparing for distance learning: Designing an online student orientation course. Education Technology & Society, 7(1), 87-106.


Lesson 6 Discussion

Use this discussion to ask questions about this lesson and to discuss the content.

Lesson 6 Assignment

Revise your course syllabus and include all the policies that you would like to include in your course. Submit this to the Lesson 6 Assignment drop box. Make sure that the file is in MS Word format. I will review the Syllabus and make comments using the Track Changes feature in MS Word.