Designing Syllabi for Student Success and Accessibility

By utilizing principles accessibility, faculty can ensure that the all students can access and use the information contained in the syllabus.

This comprehensive How to Create a Syllabus guide from Kevin Gannon via the Chronicle of Higher Education offers advice – why is it needed? how to frame it? pitfalls to avoid? – for nearly every possible section you might include in a syllabus. Note that this guide goes beyond the minimum required elements for a WSU syllabus.

It is expected that students can communicate with faculty outside of regularly scheduled class meetings, and that students know what modes of communication are available to them. Each semester, faculty are expected to (1) state for students what communication modes are available to them (e.g. student/office hours1, telephone, email, video conference, site meetings); (2) make these communication modes available to students at minimum through the department office and through course materials (syllabus, online course space); (3) establish for students clear procedures for reaching faculty during student/office hours.

It is important to set clear student/office hours for your students and to adhere to them. Best practices support the provision of predictable times and locations accompanied by a welcoming statement about how visiting student/office hours supports student success. Providing an additional virtual modality supports accessibility.

If faculty opt to arrange student/office hours by appointment, it is expected that such an approach is accompanied by clear procedures for making appointments, including: (1) a clear explanation in the syllabus, in the LMS space, and in class about what “student/office hours by appointment” means and how making and  attending appointments supports student success; (2) clear instructions about how to initiate an appointment (email request, automated scheduler); (3) a statement of the  faculty member’s commitment to a timely response (no longer than 48 hours) if a student must request an appointment.

1Given that some faculty hold “office” hours outside of their assigned department office (in the student union, in dining halls, residence hall lobbies, or other common areas), “student” hours may better communicate the purpose of these hours: to be available to students for assistance. Further, qualitative research has shown that at least some students are confused by the term “office hours” and have assumed that this is time in which faculty are working in their offices and are not to be disturbed.


useful discussion questions for drafting a transparent syllabus


the “Promising Syllabus” has lots of examples of language, organized by topic

In May 2019, Anna Plemons and Amy Nusbaum, along with the Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning, led a workshop on “Designing a Syllabus to Enhance Student-Faculty Relationships and Decrease Workload.” WSU faculty expressed considerable interest in the workshop, which was first and foremost about supporting student learning. If you’d like to read ATL’s blog post reflecting on the event, check out Warm Syllabus Workshop brings Inclusive Excellence to Syllabus DesignBelow are some of the resources shared at the workshop and after.

Resources for Creating a Welcoming Syllabus

Sample Syllabi

While not exhaustive, this selection of sample syllabi provides examples of good syllabus practices in a range of disciplines. Accessible syllabi can be created in PowerPoint, Word (on a plain document or using a newsletter template), or any other word processing software, to leverage warm, inclusive language with functional formatting.

Psychology—Amy Nusbaum’s Psych 105 Syllabus, shared at the workshop, demonstrates strategies for equity and accessibility, and includes a grading pie chart, and the “How I can help you succeed” section with resources for student success in and out of the classroom.

Anthropology—Strong sidebar, Q&A policies section, and table of assignments

History—Excellent example of a meaningful photo illustration and a useful table of contents (“what’s in this syllabus”)

Biology—Strong organization and conversational “callouts” (though could be visually simpler)