An effective syllabus is both relevant and accessible for all students. Along with complete information, it needs organization and formatting that works well in assistive devices.

To help you get started, OAI has an accessible syllabus template with PSU policies and other common elements. It’s organized with Microsoft Word’s heading structure and uses accessible formatting. Keep the structure and formatting to maintain accessibility, but add and delete information to make it relevant for your course.

Note these elements:

  • Headings: Use text formatted as a heading to identify sections of your syllabus.
  • Lists: Use the list tool (bullets or numbering), not dashes, to identify lists of items.
  • Links: Make them 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 that describes the image for visually-impaired students.
  • Font: Make sure the text color you use has enough color contrast to be legible. Also, don’t use color or underlining to convey information or meaning.
  • Layout: Use adequate line spacing (1.15 or greater) and a large enough font size. (Nine points is the minimum, but 12 to 14 is better.)

It’s also important for a syllabus to be culturally inclusive to all our students. The PSU Library has a guide to making your syllabus — and your whole curriculum — more culturally responsive and inclusive:

Important notes for building your syllabus:

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

Beyond the Basics

Video Introduction

Particularly in online courses, it might be helpful to also create a video screencast introducing the course syllabus. Consider, for example, this 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. An example:

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 can be asking a presenter to speak slower, or turning your camera off for a moment and letting the class know that you will participate via chat, or keeping your camera on but letting the class know 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 constructed collaboratively with students, giving them choices about what, how, when, and with whom they will meet learning objectives.

One way to build a negotiated syllabus is to start with what’s required for students to pass the course. Outline those requirements, then allow the class to determine some aspects democratically — such as readings, grade scheme, class activities, major assignments, etc.

Students are often much more invested in classes where they are making decisions and building the class with the instructor and their peers.