Developing a Course Syllabus

Before crafting your University of Toronto course syllabus:

  • Check with your own Division or home unit to identify the relevant local policies and procedures that need to be considered or applied when designing a syllabus for your course, including any public health updates as relevant.
  • Consult University of Toronto Libraries (UTL) for assistance with identifying and arranging access to course readings, including clarification of copyright issues. UTL offers a Syllabus Service that makes course readings available to students that respects Canadian copyright law and existing U of T licensing agreements and policies. Library staff will retrieve, scan, and provide links to material, as well as acquire eBooks suitable for course use whenever available.
  • Consult the Accessible Campus web site for information on how to design an accessible course syllabus. Note that, per the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act or AODA, any course-related information for post-secondary courses in Ontario (e.g., a course syllabus) must be provided in accessible formats.
  • Consider including one of these sample statement in your course syllabus. Such statements help provide clear and consistent messaging to your students, and can help signal your awareness, around key issues such as equity, accessibility and accommodation, as well as privacy and academic integrity.
  • The University has created sample statements for instructors to include in course syllabi and course assignments to help shape the message to students about what AI technology is, or is not, allowed. Download the document here

Essential Information

Course syllabi vary widely in length, format, content, and style. Where possible, the syllabus should be made available to students in both hard copy and online formats. All course syllabi should incorporate the following key information.

  • Course name, number and designator (e.g., ENG 100F – Effective Writing)
  • Your name and contact information (e.g., office location and office hours, instructor or course web site address, email address)
    [Note: instructors are not required to provide their personal phone number to students but may do so at their own discretion]
  • If teaching mostly or entirely online/remotely, consider holding virtual office hours – designate specific times when students can reach you for one-on-one real-time online chats or full-class or small group online question-and-answer sessions
  • Teaching Assistant (TA) name and contact information (as applicable)
  • Lab Technician name and contact information (as applicable)
  • If teaching entirely or partly online/remotely:
    • provide information on how students should access course information and the minimum technical requirements/equipment they need to connect to and participate fully in the course
    • share what online tools and/or apps students are expected to use, and guidelines on how to use them
    • provide clarity on what elements of the course are asynchronous (i.e., what the students will complete on their own time and at their own pace, within established coursework timelines, e.g., online modules or readings) and which are synchronous (i.e., any real-time activities, such as webinars, that the students are expected to participate in)
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, if teaching in-person:
    • first consult any institutional (e.g., Environmental Health & Safety), departmental or divisional guidelines that apply to on-campus teaching
    • familiarize yourself with the space you will be teaching in to note any updates to classroom features that need to be communicated to students
    • provide information on safety protocols for in-class work, as appropriate, e.g., physical distancing measures, the need to wear a mask, etc., per established guidelines
  • A brief paragraph describing the main focus and broad goals of the course – indicate the 2-3 “big ideas” of the course and the key skills to be developed
  • Student learning outcomes – what can students expect to know and be able to do by the end of the course? CTSI offers guidance on crafting learning outcomes
  • Requirements for the course (e.g., pre-requisites, language requirements)
  • Indicate whether the course is a pre-requisite for upper level courses
  • Provide the details of any required readings for the course, including where students can obtain copies
  • Consult the Library for assistance with making course readings available, as noted above
  • Indicate if any of the course readings have been placed on short term loan
  • You may also wish to include additional recommended readings
  • Indicate what material is also (or exclusively) available within Quercus, or the equivalent online course portal (if applicable)

Course Work and Grading

Instructors should provide a clear breakdown of the work required in the course, including due dates and assignment weights. In addition, instructors should provide an overview of each assignment and its assessment criteria. (This information can be included in the course syllabus or provided in more detail within an “Assignment” section in Quercus and/or on a separate handout.)

Key Dates and Deadlines

This may be included under course work or in the grading portion or in the week-by-week breakdown (see below), or you might remind students in a separate section on course workload. You can also include information about required outings or special events (e.g., a field excursion or special invited guest lecture).

Course/Department/Divisional Policies

Instructors may wish to outline departmental, Divisional, or their own policies regarding:

  • expectations for participation and attendance
  • deadlines for assignment submissions
  • use of Quercus or equivalent online course portal
  • use of video-conferencing platforms (e.g., Microsoft Teams or Zoom) and norms for participating in synchronous (live) sessions
  • submission methods (e.g., in person or electronically through Quercus)
  • extensions or penalties for late work
  • process for requesting re-grading of course work, if applicable
  • process for signaling course absences and requesting make-up tests or exams, if applicable
    NOTE: during the COVID-19 pandemic, the University is temporarily suspending the need for a doctor’s note or medical certificate for absences from academic participation; students should use the Absence Declaration tool on ACORN to declare an absence if they require consideration for missed academic work; students are responsible for contacting instructors to request the academic consideration they are seeking; students should record each day of their absence as soon as it begins, up until the day before they return to classes or other academic activities.
  • appropriate use of laptops and/or cell phones during class time
  • course communication policy
  • email response time and guidelines for appropriate email communication
  • online discussion forum response time
  • guidelines for online discussions – both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (self-paced posts on discussion boards)
  • academic integrity/plagiarism (not just the consequences, but also how to avoid plagiarizing in the first place – the University maintains a website on academic integrity that may be helpful)

Copyright in Instructional Settings

If students wish to audio record, video record, photograph, or otherwise reproduce lecture presentations, course notes or other similar materials provided by instructors, they must obtain the instructor’s written consent beforehand. Otherwise all such reproduction is an infringement of copyright and is prohibited. In the case of private use by students with accommodation needs, the instructor’s consent will not be unreasonably withheld, but the student must have registered for the accommodation through Accessibility Services (see “Adaptive Technology and Assessment”). See the CTSI website for additional information on:

Students may not record any portion of a lecture without the prior and explicit written permission of the course instructor. Provostial guidelines on the Appropriate Use of Information and Communication Technology state that:

“The unauthorised use of any form of device to audiotape, photograph, video-record or otherwise reproduce lectures, course notes or teaching materials provided by instructors is covered by the Canadian Copyright Act and is prohibited. Students must obtain prior written consent to such recording. In the case of private use by students with disabilities, the instructor’s consent must not be unreasonably withheld.”

Instructors may include this statement in their course outline if they wish, or may explain the policy during the first class. If instructors wish to offer broad permission to record lectures, this information may be included as a written statement in the course outline. Please see the end of this document for sample statements that can be included on your course outline.

Once permission to record is given, it may nonetheless be rescinded at any time or for particular lectures or class sessions.

Instructors should also communicate to students how recorded lecture material may be used or distributed. In particular, instructors should communicate whether lecture material is for personal use only, whether lecture recordings can be shared with other students in the course (e.g., through the course Quercus site or through email), or whether lecture recordings may be posted to a publicly-accessible website.

In addition to considerations of copyright and intellectual property, the need to protect the privacy of students in the class being recorded is also essential. In addition to general privacy protection, some students have very serious and genuine reasons for not wanting their presence in a particular class or at a particular institution to be public information, and may be endangered by insufficient privacy protection. These considerations are guided both by university policy and the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) regulations.

Questions about adhering to privacy guidelines in a specific context may be addressed to the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation or the Rafael Eskenazi, the University of Toronto FIPP Director at

In general, instructors and students should follow the following guidelines:

  • Students must be given notice that lectures or a lecture will be recorded, preferably well before the recorded class. Ideally, this notification would also be offered if the recording is being made by a student for their own personal use.
  • Students must be given the option to opt out of recorded classes without penalty. In general, this can be done with minimal disruption by designating an area of the class that will not be visible on a video-recording, and by providing students who do not wish for their voice to be recorded an alternative means of participating and asking questions (e.g. by email, during office hours, or through a written note passed to a teaching assistant). Students who wish to remain anonymous in a recorded lecture must not be penalized for this choice – if, for example, participation is a required component of the course, students must be given another option to earn participation credit that will not be recorded.
  • Some faculty feel most comfortable preceding any recording with a circulated consent form. This form should outline the purpose of the recording, its potential uses, and students’ options for opting out. Please contact CTSI for a sample consent form. CTSI staff can assist you in modifying it as appropriate for your own context.

Recording Online Course Meetings (Capturing Video or Audio Recordings of Video-Conferences, Webinars, etc.)

In a course where synchronous online elements are being offered via video-conferencing platforms, instructors may have pedagogical reasons for wanting to record the video or audio feed from the sessions. This may include a need to capture the questions shared in the online chat for later follow-up, or the need to record a presentation that students deliver in fulfillment of a course requirement, etc.

However, students must be informed in writing before the course begins. Since recordings of meetings with students can be considered a collection of their personal information, such recordings are governed by privacy considerations as laid out in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or FIPPA.

With this in mind, the Office of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy at the University of Toronto has prepared the following two statements, either one of which can be used to notify students of the intention to record online course meetings. Note that a notification statement is required in any course where the recording of video or audio from an online course meeting is to occur, and applies even if the recording is only live-streamed and not stored. Note as well that any recordings that are to be stored for later access must be stored on an official secure University system (e.g., Quercus) with a secure means of access, not on publicly-accessible sites.

Instructors are strongly encouraged to include one of two possible statements in their course syllabus, and in their Quercus course shell, if intending to record online course meetings. See the section below On Notification to Students if Recording Online Course Meetings.

Sample statements to include in a course syllabus about the recording of course activities

Remote/Online Courses – Instructor Recording
Privacy Language for Course Syllabi

The FIPPA office has developed language for course instructors to use in course syllabi. This language is intended to accomplish two objectives:

  1. to notify students that their participation in an online course will be recorded
  2. to provide options for faculty to inform students of appropriate use for course materials

This course, including your participation, will be recorded on video and will be available to students in the course for viewing remotely and after each session.

Course videos and materials belong to your instructor, the University, and/or other sources depending on the specific facts of each situation, and are protected by copyright. Do not download, copy, or share any course or student materials or videos without the explicit permission of the instructor.

For questions about recording and use of videos in which you appear please contact your instructor.

This course, including your participation, will be recorded on video and will be available to students in the course for viewing remotely and after each session.

Course videos and materials belong to your instructor, the University, and/or other source depending on the specific facts of each situation, and are protected by copyright. In this course, you are permitted to download session videos and materials for your own academic use, but you should not copy, share, or use them for any other purpose without the explicit permission of the instructor.

For questions about recording and use of videos in which you appear please contact your instructor.

In Class Student Recording of Course Content
Copyright Notice for Course Syllabi

Below are sample statements granting or withholding permission for the recording of lectures that may be modified to suit your particular teaching context. Please contact CTSI if you have any questions about appropriate phrasing.

Students may create audio-recordings of the lectures for their personal use. Recordings are intended to permit lecture content review so as to enhance understanding of the topics presented. Audio-recordings are not substitutes for attending class.

Students should note that since audio recordings are to be permitted, their voice may be recorded by others during the class. Please speak to the instructor if this is a concern for you.

In accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, persons who have special needs will be accommodated.

Students agree to the following terms when creating audio recordings of lectures:

  • Recordings are not to be distributed without the permission of the instructor via the Internet, using social media such as Facebook, peer-to-peer file sharing such as One Drive or Dropbox, or other distribution channels.
  • Recordings are not to be shared with other classmates unless they are to be used in collaborative assignments, or if the instructor permits for other reasons.

Non-compliance with these terms violates an instructor’s intellectual property rights and the Canadian Copyright Act. Students violating this agreement will be subject to disciplinary actions under the Code of Student Conduct.

Students may not create audio recordings of classes with the exception of those students requiring an accommodation for a disability, who should speak to the instructor prior to beginning to record lectures.

Students creating unauthorized audio recording of lectures violate an instructor’s intellectual property rights and the Canadian Copyright Act. Students violating this agreement will be subject to disciplinary actions under the Code of Student Conduct.

Course videos may not be reproduced or posted or shared anywhere other than the official course Quercus site and should only be used by students currently registered in the course. Recordings may be saved to students’ laptop for personal use.

Because recordings will be provided for all lectures, students may not create additional audio or video recordings without written permission from the instructor. Permission for such recordings will not be withheld for students with accommodation needs.

Student Support and Accommodation

Note any relevant academic and personal support services (for example, campus or college writing centres, counselling services, study centres, family care offices for students with parental responsibilities, etc.) and include a statement that reminds students who require accommodation to register with Accessibility Services.

See below for some sample statements that can be included in your syllabus to further signal a welcoming and supportive course environment for your students.

Week-by-Week Breakdown of In-Class Activities

Instructors may wish to provide a weekly breakdown of the material to be covered in class or online (and in tutorials, if applicable). Again, if teaching a fully online course or a course where both online and face-to-face teaching and learning will occur, be clear about which components are synchronous (real-time) versus asynchronous (self-paced) as well as the timing and details for the synchronous elements. Required and recommended readings may also be highlighted. It can be helpful for students to see in this same schedule when assignments are due, and also when work on key assignments should be started, to help students (especially first year students) with time management.

Using Your Syllabus as a Learning Tool

Your syllabus can be an important source of information about the course material and about learning in your field. This approach involves moving beyond a document that exclusively lists rules and due dates towards a course guide that invites students into the subject area and the broader discipline, and generates excitement for the learning to come. You can develop a syllabus that describes:

  • Course goals and outcomes. This might include an outline of the disciplinary content and skills that students will learn through the course, but might also address broader skills or topics (e.g. research methodology) that may contribute to or draw on other courses or fields of study.
  • Key topics and the ways in which they are connected and prioritized. This can even be presented graphically, via a “course map”: See Nilson, L. (2007). The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.
  • The ways in which information can be organized, evaluated, and debated in your field. You might provide a brief overview or some background to the study of the topic itself (for example, when it emerged as a field or formalized discipline, different ways in which it has been researched and taught), some history of the course (for example, new topics or sections that have been added or eliminated, new teaching methods or elements of course), or some information about how to perform scholarly work in the discipline (for example, an introduction to how to read particular kinds of texts or sources within the course, how to evaluate materials and sources external to the course through the lens of the discipline, and/or how to apply the course material in different contexts).

Together, these elements create what is often referred to as a “learner-centred” syllabus. For more tips on using your syllabus as a learning tool, see the web site of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CELT) at Iowa State University at or additional references are noted in the list of resources at the end of this guide.

Options for Additional Information

You might also want to include some or all of these additional pieces of information to help your students prepare for the course:

  • A description of your expectations for course activities, for example:
    • what meaningful in-class or online participation looks like
    • what successful preparation for in-class or online activities and assignments involves
    • what a reasonable work pace might be, including suggested timelines for keeping up with weekly course work and preparing assignments
    • the process for requesting additional feedback on course work
  • Any additional supplies, materials, or equipment that are required or might help students succeed in the course
  • Responses to “Frequently Asked Questions” about the course or the course material
  • Your personal teaching philosophy statement and a description of your own pedagogical approaches/instructional strategies
  • Other information about your own research area or your own interest in and connection to the course topic

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