A syllabus provides students an outline of the course expectations. In order for the syllabus to be effective, not only do you need to include all the relevant information, but the information must be organized and formatted in a way that will be accessible to all students. To accomplish this, it is important to create a fully accessible document that has the following elements properly formatted.

OAI has created an accessible syllabus template, containing PSU policies and other common syllabus elements to help you get started. This syllabus template is tagged to be accessible, using Word’s heading structure. You can use the existing formatting to maintain accessibility and add to and delete information to make it relevant to your own course.

Download the PSU Accessible Syllabus Template, updated January 2021 (docx)

If you want to update your existing syllabus, be sure to pay attention to the following elements:

  • Headers – Use text marked with heading tags to identify different sections of your syllabus.
  • Lists – Use the list tool, not dashes, to identify lists of items.
  • Links – Make your links meaningful; for example, instead of click here, use a more descriptive link: OAI+ Tech Tutorials.
  • Tables – Use column and row headers on every table.
  • Images – Add alternative text to images that describe the image for visually-impaired students.
  • Font – Make sure the text color you use has enough color contrast to be legible. Also, do not use color or underlining to convey information or meaning.
  • Layout – Use adequate line spacing (1.15 or greater) and a font size that is not too small (9pt is the minimum, but 12 to 14 pt is best).

It is also important to create a syllabus that is culturally inclusive to all of our students. The PSU Library has created a great guide that speaks not only to making your syllabus culturally responsive and inclusive but also provides tips for making your whole curriculum more inclusive:

PSU Library: Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum

Important Notes:

  • Talk with your department or college about any additional syllabus requirements.
  • Be sure to check dates and hyperlinks before use.
  • Post the syllabus in the content area of your online course so students always know where to access it.

Beyond the Basics

Syllabus Video Walkthrough

Particularly in online courses, it might be helpful to also create a video screencast describing getting started with the course syllabus. See, for example, the Syllabus Builder Video from UDL on Campus.

Naming Access Needs

Consider adding a statement to your syllabus that invites students to share their access needs throughout the term.

I encourage you to name your access needs in this class and ask that you please communicate as your needs change. Naming your access needs may look like asking a presenter to speak slower, turning your camera off for a moment and letting the class know that you will participate via chat, or that you may fidget, stretch, or move during class time. Naming your access needs is an important part of how you communicate with the class.

The Negotiated Syllabus

A negotiated syllabus is one that is constructed collaboratively with students, providing them with a range of choices about what, how, when, and with whom they will meet the learning objectives of the course. There are many ways to build a negotiated syllabus with your students, but one method is to start with a basic foundation of what is required in order for students to pass the course. Outline those requirements for students, and then allow for some aspects of the class to be determined democratically such as readings, grade scheme, class activities, major assignments, etc. Students are often much more invested in classes where they are actively making decisions and building the class with the instructor and their peers.

Learn More Elsewhere

This article was last updated on Jul 19, 2021 @ 3:36 pm.

Need More Help?

We'd love to hear from you. Full-service remote support is available to all PSU instructors through the Office of Academic Innovation. Contact the virtual Faculty Support Desk, Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Send a Message

Chat with Support Staff

Privacy Preference Center