Planning Your Course

Designing Your Syllabus

“The syllabus is your script” (Volk, 2011, p. 123). Students will know exactly what to expect to learn and do on any day of the semester. To build a thoughtful syllabus, you need to consider knowledge and skills:

  • Knowledge: choose topics of the discipline that provide foundational ideas and incorporate new thinking
  • Skills or activities: “integrate critical thinking, coherent writing, and informed, coherent discussion” (Volk, 2011, p. 123). “Practical skills can be learned individually or in groups, through student presentations or short acting assignments” (p. 124).

The Importance of the Class Syllabus

The syllabus is a contract between your students and you, what you will teach, what they are expected to learn, how you will assess their learning, and how they can receive a high grade for the course. It is important that students understand that learning is cumulative, and that they experience each session as building on the previous session to add up to a semester’s worth of knowledge about a particular subject.

In the first session of the class (es) you teach, you must provide students with a syllabus. A syllabus (either a paper document or available online) spells out the following:

Information about the class

  • The name of the class and course code
  • Meeting times, dates, and location of the class
  • Your name, office hours and location (where students can talk to you outside of class)
  • Required textbook and supplemental materials

Learning objectives

  • What you expect students to learn, written using active verbs (avoid: “students will be able to…)
  • List of topics for each class session

Semester schedule

  • Readings to be completed by the students before (and/or after) each class session
  • Homework assignments and due dates
  • Schedule of tests, quizzes
  • Due dates for projects and papers

Grading policy

This is a clear breakdown of how the final grade is computed, and can include:

  • Attendance requirements
  • Class participation requirements
  • Homework
  • Tests
  • Projects and papers

Statement of Academic Integrity

View the City Tech’s Academic Integrity Policy Manual

Students and all others who work with information, ideas, texts, images, music, inventions, and other intellectual property owe their audience and sources accuracy and honesty in using, crediting, and citing sources. As a community of intellectual and professional workers, the College recognizes its responsibility for providing instruction in information literacy and academic integrity, offering models of good practice, and responding vigilantly and appropriately to infractions of academic integrity. Accordingly, academic dishonesty is prohibited in The City University of New York and at New York City College of Technology and is punishable by penalties, including failing grades, suspension, and expulsion. The complete text of the University policy on Academic Integrity may be found in the catalog.

Designing Your Placed-based Learning Assignments

Effectively Using Site Visits
Some Preliminary Questions for Faculty:

When in the arc of the semester will the site visit take place: beginning, middle, or end?

Will that timeline benefit the overall objectives of the visit?

Will the site visit introduce a concept? Help frame a project? Provide a capstone?

Does the visit teach a specific lesson, or open up a field for student research?

What kind of guidance do my students need?

What kind of preparatory work needs to be done before the visit? What concepts do my students need to know in advance?

Will I be there when my students make the trip?

Will the visit be done in a large group (the entire class), in smaller groups (2-4), or individually?

Will the visit take place during class time? Outside of class? Both?

Have I completed the necessary paperwork, including collecting signed permission slips for students under 18 years old (particularly important for first-year courses!)

What kinds of writing assignments help facilitate place-based learning?

Some Low-stakes Assignments:

Ask students to write a paragraph in response to important questions:

Before the Site Visit:

What aspects of the site visit are you most curious about? Why? What questions do you have about the subject matter of the trip?

What do you expect to gain from this experience? How will the trip relate to our course goals? Be specific.

What opportunities for interaction with [specific subject matter] do you anticipate the trip will offer?

During the Site Visit:

What stands out to you during the experience? Take notes, and submit them typed and in full sentences at the start of our next class.

Use the distributed question sheet to keep track of information from the site visit. You [or your group] must submit a completed sheet by the start of our next class.

After the Site Visit:

Did the field trip engage your interest as you anticipated? What answers did you find for the questions you had?

What about the trip helped you learn about [course topic]? What do you now understand about [key concept from your course]? What didn’t work? Why?

How did the site visit help to improve your understanding of [key concepts]

or the larger goals of the course? If it did not, why do you think that was the case?

If you were to design a virtual tour of the subject of this field trip, what would you change or expand to improve the learning you gained from this experience?

Resources for Virtual Site Visits:

Ranging from simple photo tours to extremely detailed, interactive, multimedia tours, virtual site visits offer the benefits in terms of time and cost, and there are some that can provide more detailed experiences than would be available in person.

A Small Sample:

The Tenement Museum Virtual Tour and Audio Tour:

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History:

MoMA Van Gogh exhibit that lets you zoom in much more than you could in person:

The Nine Planets offers photos and information, although no tour per se: or

PBS’s “A Walk Around Brooklyn” offers an interactive map of Brooklyn history by old towns:

Google Maps allows for many possibilities particularly in the satellite view, and especially when you drag the little orange man to the spot on the map you want to see at street level:

A somewhat helpful checklist to help you evaluate the use of a virtual tour:

Prepared by Helen Burnham, Yimao Chen, Liza Pappas, Jody Rosen, and Mark Schiebe
(City Tech Writing Fellows), April 29, 2011

Designing Your Writing Intensive Course

Writing Intensive Courses

Before Starting to Teach

Classroom Inspection

Before the class begins, check the following physical dimensions of your room (Reed, 2002, p. 28):

  • Heating and air conditioning controls – where they are, how to operate them, who to contact for help
  • Lighting controls – where they are and whether lighting can be dimmed closest to the area where you will be doing projections or displaying videos
  • Secure storage area for equipment or papers to limit access by others
  • Location of the restrooms
  • Availability of tools or equipment you need – are they in the classroom or will you have to find them, reserve them, and transport them? Are plugs accessible? Identify safety hazards and the location and status of safety equipment (for science courses, for example: eye wash fountains, showers, fire extinguishers, chemical spill kits, etc.)
  • Visibility – are there obstructions that will block students’ view of you or any presentation? If so, how can you work around the obstruction?
  • How is the room arranged?

Quality Control

  • Before entering the classroom, check handouts and visual aids. Review the order of your presentation notes and audiovisual aids. Check links and websites.
  • Know your arena. Check the room for necessary technological support, including computers, projector, screen, and Internet connection, as needed.
  • Have a back-up plan in case technology fails or the discussion question does not produce your expected result, or you are met with blank stares (Adsit, 2011).

Presentation Room/Media Services

*Presentation rooms are classrooms that have built in media devices.