EDTEC 690 Literature Review

EDTEC 690 Methods of Inquiry

Educational Technology Dept. at San Diego State University

Prepared by Su Tuan Lulee, Spring 2007


Literature Review

Research Paper

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The Components of Syllabi

-- A Content Analysis

Literature Review

Mar. 6, 2007

Su Tuan Lulee

Contact susanlulee@gmail.com  


If pedagogy is the art and methodology of teaching, syllabus is the framework of pedagogy that presents what instructors intend to do in order their students will to utmost understand the subjects. Syllabi present the effort instructors put into the course. It is also the first contact that students made to a course, a key decisive factor that allures students to the classroom and begin the exploration of particular discipline. This literature review will examine existed studies in four area (a) roles of syllabi (b) components of syllabi (c) teaching perspectives and syllabi (d) web-based education and syllabi.

Roles of syllabi

Syllabus as an outline of a course

A long recognized role of syllabi is as a summary outline for a course. It serves as part of curriculum design and a tool to facilitate students' learning of course. (Merrian-Webster Dictionary Online, 2007; Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001) A detailed syllabi states goals, methods, and multi-facets of a course.

Syllabus as a map for success and further study

Syllabi are central reference for students to obtain detailed assignments, readings and schedules throughout a semester so that they can keep on track. It directed student effort and outlined responsibility for educational success (Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001; Elizabeth Pyatt, 2006) Moreover, even the syllabi might stated more or less than what actually occurs in the classroom on certain points in quantity and quality, after classes are over, syllabi may still take precedence over the memories of students. (Parkes, Fix, & Harris, 2003) By reviewing syllabi, students could recall from the written record what had happened in that course, what instructors claimed to be the most important of the discipline and how to further explore on those interest them most. (Parkes, Fix, & Harris, 2003)

Syllabus as a planning document

Writing a syllabi can help instructors better plan the most effective presentation of course content and how the course will function. When the instructor develops the syllabi, it forces careful consideration of what objectives will be reached, what topics will be covered, what performances will be invited and evaluated, when assignments will be due, and what resourced will be offered. (Elizabeth Pyatt, 2006; Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001; McKeachie, 1978)

Syllabus as a communication tool

Syllabi are initial and important points of interaction between instructors and students. It delivers basic course information, sets the tone of the course, and describes the instructor's plan as well as beliefs about the educational purpose of the course. (Davis, 1993; Matejka & Kurke, 1994; Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001) Students’ first impressions of the course are derived from the syllabi (Danielson, 1995). Danielson further claimed in her research that syllabi can be tools for classroom socialization.

Syllabus as a contract

Syllabi are announced publicly before a course begins. As a written document, a syllabus presents practices, expectations, norms, and mutual responsibilities. It forms a contract between the instructor, students, and the school. For students, the syllabi provides security in knowing the direction and expectations for a particular course (Matejka & Kurke, 1994; Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001; McKeachie, 1999) Syllabus is a written statement that can ensure that students are made aware of course and school policy, so they can 't claim ignorance later. A well-constructed syllabus can satisfy and reduce classroom uncertainties. (Elizabeth Pyatt, 2006; Danielson, 1996) while a poor created syllabus can be a source of student complaints and grievances. (Parkes, Fix, & Harris, 2003)

Syllabus as a repository for other instructors

Syllabi not only reflected goals and objectives, they also outline plans and strategies of courses in written form. When taking scholarly reflection on a course, syllabi could be tools for considering course and curriculum redesign. They provide recommendations to and share delicate design thoughts with instructors who will teach similar courses. (Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001) The syllabi repository can leverage good characteristics of course design and helped to maintain quality of instruction. (Tungare, Yu, Cameron, Teng, Perez-Quinones, Cassel, & et al, 2006; Elizabeth Pyatt, 2006)

Components of syllabi

The first step in developing a syllabus is to have a clear picture of what information is typically included. There are several studies on components of syllabi. They suggested 11-items, 29-item, 39-item, and 17-item listing of components in their research papers. (Davis, 1993; Becker and Calhoon, 1999; Garavalia, Hummel, Wiley, & Huitt, 1999; Tungare, Yu, Cameron, Teng, Perez-Quinones, Cassel, & et al, 2006). In another research paper (Parkes, Fix, & Harris, 2003), it claimed that 9 categories with a list of nearly 120 variables were built and applied to the research, however, no detailed component listing was presented. Components of syllabi were considered as the essential data of syllabi research for every purpose. Researches built research schema and data coding according to the component list that they agree with and worked out with their conclusions through analyzing and interpreting characteristics of components they collected for each syllabus. Components of syllabi give out the information about what instructors used, weighted, and carried out in their courses along with demographic information for instructors and courses to researchers.

Teaching perspectives and syllabi

The syllabus is much more than an inventory of teaching items, such as title, name of instructor, readings, assignments and schedule. It also defines the approach to teaching and learning, such as information on the purpose of the course (goals and objectives), learning tools, lecture models, performances required, assessment methods and grading policies. Every syllabus had to take account of contextual variables and constraints then adopted an approach based on particular teaching perspectives. (Bourke, 2006) Writing a syllabus “often were based on certain assumptions and about what is appropriate for a course of what constitutes effective teaching.” (Altman, 1989) Hirsch advocated that teaching should emphasize on specific information for students to learn a lot of general knowledge and that “both formalism and naturalism are half-truths.” (Hirsch, 1996) For the followers of Hirsch, the essential aim of schooling is to promote literacy as an enabling competence. Gardener, a developmental psychologist and later as a neuropsychologist, formulated a list of seven intelligences. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences implied that educators should recognize differences between learners and teach to a broader range of talents and skills. Supporters of Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences believe that teachers should think of all intelligences as equally important. (Gardener, 1991) Between these two great contrasts, are there differences in selecting components of syllabi? Studies found various point of focuses were put on instructors’ efforts, some syllabi stressed on student-centered approach, topic-based, problem-based approaches, the others emphasized on outcome-based and objective-based approaches. (Eberly, Newton, & Wiggins, 2001; Bourke, 2006; McComas, 2004)

Web-based education and syllabi

Web-based education differs widely from traditional classroom instruction in the types of interaction between instructors and learners, content and learners, as well as learners and learners. The Internet restructures education in various dimensions includes reading content posting, class lecture presenting, view points discussing, reflection sharing, and examination executing. Researches found digitization and convergence change the way students use an online syllabus but many instructors failed to enhance their syllabi thereby diminishing its power as a communication tool thus the syllabi hadn’t properly served different online teaching context. For example, many instructors often not included assessment practices on the syllabi; other instructors used low interactivity style that contains very few links for their syllabi; the other instructors failed to offer supportive statement that directly impact on the willingness of students to seek help from instructors; moreover, while successful web-based education depends heavily on self-management and active engagement from students, students responsibility for learning was often not stated in syllabi. (Parkes, Fix, & Harris, 2003; Grigorovici, Nam, & Russill, 2002; Perrine & Lisle, 1995)

In the meanwhile, study had found additional functionality features in online syllabi through hyperlinks. Hyperlinks that link to external information, to multiple media, to data files, and to software were added to syllabi main body. Syllabi were not static documents any more. There were some forms of enhancement created in syllabi provided online. (Maurino, 2006) Syllabus was playing a more and more essential role for online course. Although not all researchers agree with Diamond’s suggestion (1989) for developing a type of very comprehensive syllabus to better serve students’ needs, some researchers proposed that course syllabi deserve more frequent quality reviews. (Maurino, 2006)


Summarizing the studies reviewed, syllabi had played an important role in delivering outline of courses, guiding students' learning, facilitating course planning, initiating dialogues between participants, forming study contracts, and helping to maintain quality of courses. Some studies began to pay attention to impacts of web-based education while others beginning to taking notice of the formatives of syllabi based on particular teaching perspectives.

Despite the importance of the syllabi, little attention was given to the analysis of its components; however, following studies provided helpful considerations for establishing framework of this research by reporting various characteristics of courses and instructors, such as focuses of courses in particular field of courses (Bogert & Butt, 1998); content, form and functionality of syllabi (Maurino & Millan, 2006); library use by course and use patterns in syllabi (Lauer, 1990; Miko, 1990); language and gender impacts on syllabi (Hume & McElhinny, 1994); instructional materials for various courses (Koger, 1995; Smith, 1988; Broderick, 1985; Hartman, 1985); and new teachers and syllabi. (Gorelick, 1995)

Base on this context, it is necessary to study the evolution of syllabi when online distance education becomes more and more popular nowadays. Has web-based education brought new content for syllabi? Have the methods of assessments, the quantity of lectures, or the admissive assignment deliveries spoken for different teaching perspectives of the authors? Have syllabi shown the intentions, roles, attitudes, and strategies that instructors use to promote effective learning? The knowledge of a course syllabus can be used to understand the structure of a course and how learning objectives are combined to form larger modules and packaged as a course so as to provide help for creating new courses. 


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Becker, A.H., & Calhoon, Sharon K. (1999) What Introductory Psychology Students Attend to on a Course Syllabus. Teaching of Psychology, 26(1), 6-11.

Bogert, J., & Butt, David. (1996). Communication Instruction in MBA Programs: A Survey of Syllabi. Business Communication Quarterly , 59(2), 20-44.

Bourke, J.M. (2006). Designing a Topic-Based Syllabus for Young Learners. ELT Journal, 60(3), 279-286.

Danielson, M.A. (1995). The Role of the Course Syllabi in Classroom Socialization. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Central States Communication Association (Indianapolis, IN, April 19-23, 1995), 15.

Diamond, R.M. (1989). Designing and Improving Courses and Curricula in Higher Education: A Systematic Approach. , 305. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved March 12, 2007, from ERIC database.

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Elizabeth Pyatt (2006). TLT -- Tips for an effective syllabus. Retrieved February 15, 2007 from Pennsylvania State University, Information Technology Services website: http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/syllabus/#suggestedfield

Garavalia, L.S., Hummel, John H. , & Huitt, William G. (1999). Constructing the Course Syllabus: Faculty and Student Perceptions of Important Syllabus Components. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 10(1), 5-21.

Gardner, H. (1991). The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach. Basic Books.

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McComas, B. Creating an Outcomes-Based Syllabus. Retrieved February 25, 2007, from the University of Southern California, Center for Excellence in Teaching Web site: http://www.usc.edu/programs/cet/resources/creating_syllabi/.

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Parkes, J., & Harris, Mary B. (2002). The Purposes of a Syllabus. College Teaching, 50(2), 55-61.

Perrine, R.M., & And Others. (1995). Effects of a Syllabus Offer of Help, Student Age, and Class Size on College Students' Willingness to Seek Support from Faculty. Journal of Experimental Education, 64(1), 41-52.