Guidance for syllabus changes and delivery method

This message to all faculty and staff has been approved by Dr. Sally McRorie, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Dear Colleagues,

Thank you for all you are doing to transition to remote teaching. We’ve been in (virtual) contact with many of you over the past 10 days and your commitment to excellence and meeting the needs of our students is evident. Below are some guidelines for communicating with your students about the changes you are making to your courses as we complete the semester online. Ideally, you will update your syllabi once to minimize confusion, but we recognize that circumstances may require multiple changes. What is most critical is that you communicate the changes to your students, that you do your best to keep open the lines of communication with your students, and that you are patient and compassionate with your students and yourselves. These are challenging times!

Guidance for Syllabus Changes and Delivery Method (A/synchronous)

1) Instructors should decide whether to deliver their courses synchronously (in real-time with students attending virtually through Zoom or other mechanism); asynchronously (using recorded/static materials posted online for students to review on their own); or a combination of the two (e.g., reading/review is done outside of class and a synchronous period is used for discussion). It is important to communicate clearly in the syllabus what the format for the class will be going forward:

  • Asynchronous with an established due date and time for each assignment/assessment
  • Synchronous at the normally scheduled class meeting time but please be flexible regarding attendance as some students may be in different time zones or have caregiving responsibilities that conflict with class times
  • Combination with a clear outline of both the asynchronous and synchronous portions (the latter of which should be held at the normally scheduled class meeting time)

2) Communicate the method for addressing issues that may arise, such as email, office hours, etc., and perhaps provide a link to the page with student resources for dropping the class in the updated syllabus. If meeting synchronously, instructor implementation of attendance policies should take into account the extraordinary circumstances that students may be experiencing.

3) Instructors should think through changes that will be necessary and plan to do a single revision of their syllabus to help students understand what is expected for the remainder of the semester. Avoiding multiple changes to the syllabus will reduce confusion and give instructors and students a stable “road map” for the remaining part of the course. The set of changes should be made to the syllabus in Canvas and/or to the document version, depending on how the syllabus was shared initially with students. If only a printed copy was given to students, the modified syllabus will need to be shared electronically (best is by uploading the pdf document rather than using Canvas’s built-in syllabus). Explain any changes clearly in the revision of the syllabus, post a Canvas announcement about it for all students, and use time in the first remote class period to go over the changes and address questions and concerns that students raise. The updated syllabus should be clearly labeled to indicate that it has been revised.

4) If a learning objective can no longer be met as outlined in the original syllabus with the move to remote format, consider what modifications are needed to allow it to be met instead of simply removing the entire learning objective. Once a reasonable modification is designed, use that to determine whether, and if so, how, the associated assessment must change. It can be an iterative process where you weigh both the learning objective and how it might be measured, but please start with a desired learning objective and fit an assessment strategy to it instead of fitting the learning objective to a desired assessment strategy (information about alternative assessment strategies may be found at

5) If a learning objective has already been met and assessed sufficiently during the semester, then it may be justifiable to suspend further assessment of it. This is especially relevant to situations in which further assessment could translate poorly to a remote format, thereby disadvantaging some students. The weighting of this assessment component should remain as stated in the original grading (assessment) statement.

6) Changes to grading (assessment) statements when moving to a remote format should be made only if absolutely necessary, as a last resort. If changes to assessments are necessary, please preserve the weighting of the grade components. Avoid removing entire components and placing all of the weight on a single component. Do everything possible to create alternatives that maintain the value of the learning objective assessments. Explain any changes clearly in the revised syllabus, post a Canvas announcement marked ”Important” for all students, and go over the revised syllabus with the class during your first remote meeting (if using synchronous delivery).