A syllabus (pl. syllabuses or syllabi) is an academic document that communicates course information and defines expectations and responsibilities. It is descriptive (unlike the prescriptive or specific curriculum). A syllabus may be set out by an exam board or prepared by the professor who supervises or controls course quality. It may be provided in paper form or online.
There are seven essential components to an academic syllabus: Instructor information, General course information, Course objectives, Course policies, Grading and evaluation, Learning resources, and the Course Calendar.
The syllabus is a "contract between faculty members and their students, designed to answer students' questions about a course, as well as inform them about what will happen should they fail to meet course expectations."  It is also a "vehicle for expressing accountability and commitment" (2005, p. 63). Over time, the notion of a syllabus as a contract has grown more literal but is not in fact an enforceable contract.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word syllabus derives from modern Latin syllabus "list", in turn from a misreading of the Greek σίττυβας sittybas "parchment label, table of contents", which first occurred in a 15th-century print of Cicero's letters to Atticus. Earlier Latin dictionaries such as Lewis and Short contain the word syllabus, relating it to the non-existent Greek word σύλλαβος, which appears to be a mistaken reading of syllaba "syllable"; the newer Oxford Latin Dictionary does not contain this word. The apparent change from sitty- to sylla- is explained as a hypercorrection by analogy to συλλαμβάνω (syllambano "bring together, gather").
Because the word syllabus is formed in Latin by mistake, the Latinate plural form syllabi might be considered a hypercorrection. The OED, however, admits both syllabuses and syllabi as the plural form.
The syllabus ensures a fair and impartial understanding between the instructor and students such that there is minimal confusion on policies relating to the course, setting clear expectations of material to be learned, behavior in the classroom, and effort on student's behalf to be put into the course, providing a roadmap of course organization/direction relaying the instructor's teaching philosophy to the students, and providing a marketing angle of the course such that students may choose early in the course whether the subject material is attractive.
Many generalized items of a syllabus can be amplified in a specific curriculum to maximize efficient learning by clarifying student understanding of specified material such as grading policy, grading rubric, late work policy, locations and times, other contact information for instructor and teaching assistant such as phone or email, materials required and/or recommended such as textbooks, assigned reading books, calculators (or other equipment), lab vouchers, etc., outside resources for subject material assistance (extracurricular books, tutor locations, resource centers, etc.), important dates in course such as exams and paper due-dates, tips for succeeding in mastering course content such as study habits and expected time allotment, suggested problems if applicable, necessary pre-requisites or co-requisites to current course, safety rules if appropriate, and objectives of the course.
A syllabus will often contain a reading list of relevant books and articles that are compulsory or optional for students to read. As an indirect effect of this, scholars can count how many online syllabi include their works as a way of estimating their educational impact.
Notes and references
- "syllabus". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/syllabus>
- Slattery, J.M.; Carlson, J.F. (2005). "Preparing an effective syllabus: current best practices.". College Teaching. 54 (4): 159–164. doi:10.3200/CTCH.53.4.159-164.
- Habanek, D.V. (2005). "An examination of the integrity of the syllabus". College Teaching. 53 (2): 62–64. doi:10.3200/ctch.53.2.62-64.
- Wasley, P. (2008). "The Syllabus Becomes a Repository of Legalese". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 54 (27).
- "Online Etymology Dictionary - Syllabus". Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- syllabus. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
- "The Curious and Quibbling History of "Syllabus" (part 2)". Epekteinomene. Retrieved 5 May 2014.
- "The plural of virus? Latinate plurals reconsidered - Languages Of The World | Languages Of The World". Languagesoftheworld.info. Retrieved 2014-04-26.
- Kousha, K.; Thelwall, M. (2008). "Assessing the impact of disciplinary research on teaching: An automatic analysis of online syllabuses". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 59 (13): 2060. doi:10.1002/asi.20920.