The U.S. Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and UW-Madison recognize a course syllabus is required for each course offering. This policy specifies what is and is not required in a course proposal sample syllabus.
A course syllabus is required when a course proposal is submitted and must follow the requirements for course syllabi at UW-Madison. Some information that is specific to a course offering, such as instructor name, location, etc. is not required, although it is recommended this information be included when known. The following items are required:
Key Course Offering Information
Academic Policies and Statements
Special accrediting bodies may have additional or different syllabus requirements.
This policy applies to courses broadly, not just course proposals.
The review of course proposals is a shared responsibility, the intent of which is to broadly communicate curricula, offer feedback, enhance the quality of instruction, and meet certain standards. This policy outlines the elements required for course proposals.
A course proposal must include information to support the development of the course. The following elements are required, when applicable, and appear in the Guide and Course Search & Enroll. These elements must be consistent across all course offerings and can only be changed via the Course Proposal Form in Lumen.
Directed/Independent Study or Thesis Course
Credits (Variable Credit)
Topic Title Eligibility
Course Attributes and Designations
General Education (QR-A and B, COMM A and B)
The subject must reflect the area of study and department offering the course. All proposals must be approved by the department that owns the subject listing and the school or college that owns the department. The same is true of any cross-list partners.
The course number must reflect the level of the course:
Specific course numbers are assigned to directed/independent study, undergraduate thesis, and graduate thesis and dissertation writing courses.
A cross-listed course must have the same elements in all cross-listed subjects:
Cross-listing is reserved for courses that are taught within an inter- or multi-disciplinary framework and that appropriately belong to multiple subject listings. There is no requirement that a course be cross-listed, even when it meets the following criteria:
The course title, also known as the Long Title, must reflect the overall theme of the course description and must be unique except for independent/directed study and similar courses where the title simply describes the basic activity of the course (e.g., Research, Thesis, etc.). It is utilized in Course Search and Enroll, Guide, Canvas and other campus systems and publications where space is not an issue.
A topic title-eligible course has two titles: a course title that is generic title and a topic title. Each time a section of the course is offered, the additional Topic Title is assigned to the section indicating the specific topic. See Topic Title Eligibility for more information.
The Transcript Title is an abridged version of the Course Title and appears on the student transcript. The Transcript Title must accurately reflect the course to external parties such as employers, other institutions, etc.
The course description provides a summary of the course content. The text of a course description is used in the search features of Guide, Course Search and Enroll, etc. Students use key words and phrases in course searches. The description must be written such that the intended audience (students, advisors, transfer credit evaluators, and the public) knows what will be taught in the course.
A course description must:
Note: In limited situations, information related to the enrollment of students in the course, such as “Consent of Instructor” may be included as the last sentence in the course description.
A catalog requisite is the academic preparation required of all students to be successful in a course. A requisite can take the form of a prerequisite (completed prior to the start of the course) or a co-requisite (taken concurrently with the course).
Each requisite must be transparent and inclusive of all ways a student can demonstrate preparation.
A requisite is not a means of managing enrollment. This is done at the section level with requirement groups and is not part of the course catalog. A section level requirement can be variable while a course catalog level requirement is constant. A section-level requirement group is determined when building the schedule of classes and may only be stricter than the catalog level requisite.
A requisite must, when applicable:
When a requisite is not enforceable in the enrollment system, ‘Consent of Instructor’ may be utilized by the academic department when developing the course description at the catalog level. See the list of standard requisites.
The grading basis for a course determines what grade options are available to the course instructor on the grade roster.
Available grading bases include:
A course component reflects a category of course meeting and is not intended to describe the instructional method.
Lecture: A commonly used component for group instruction.
Seminar: A small discussion-oriented course, usually in a specialized topic.
Field Study: A course that takes place in a work setting.
Discussion: A component that is an attachment to and subset of a lecture.
Laboratory: A component used to reflect hands on learning. A laboratory may be attached to a lecture or stand alone.
Directed/Independent Study or Thesis Course: A one-on-one learning experience where student learning is directed by an instructor and the student learns independently of other students.
Some course components may be used in combination:
Each course must abide by the Credit Hour policy, including a course offered for variable credit.
A variable credit course may take several forms:
A course may be designated as “repeatable” which allows a student to successfully complete the course for credit more than once.
The content of a topics course varies with each course offering. A topics course must not be used to circumvent the course proposal and approval process. A topic title that becomes a regular offering in the curriculum must be proposed as a new course.
A topics course is used to pilot and refine an idea for a new course, address a timely issue of special interest, or be offered for a limited time, and must:
A topics course is not to be cross-listed unless there is a specific programmatic and scholarly reason.
All attributes and designations are set at the catalog level and apply to all sections of a course, unless otherwise noted.
The graduate level course attribute is assigned to a course that meets graduate-level standards and contributes to the requirement that at least 50% of credits applied toward a graduate degree must be in courses designated for graduate work.
The honors designation may be used at the course catalog or section level. When designated at the course catalog level, every section of the course must be offered every time with the honors designation. When designated at the section level, oversight is the responsibility of the school/college honors program and is addressed each semester when developing the Schedule of Classes.
The breadth attributes are administered by the College of Letters and Science and indicates a course has been reviewed to meet the requirements for the L&S undergraduate degree (Natural Science, Humanities/Literature/Arts, and Social Studies requirements). Many schools and colleges also use the L&S breadth designation to indicate to students how they may meet their general education requirements.
LAS Credit Attribute
A course designated LAS Credit must encourage students in one or more of the three “habits of mind” of liberal arts education, as specified by the College of Letters and Science:
General Education Attribute
Consideration of course eligibility for a general education attribute occurs after all department and school/college approvals are granted.
Ethnic Studies Attribute
The ethnic studies requirement is overseen by the Ethnic Studies Subcommittee of the University General Education Committee, which reviews all requests.
Foreign Language Attribute
The foreign language course attribute differentiates courses where the primary focus of the course is teaching a method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way, from courses that focus on the culture, literature, history, and polity or other aspects of language learning.
Workplace experience encompasses internships, clinical work, cooperatives, practica, student teaching, and other simultaneous credit-bearing experiences based on immersive workplace experience that is linked to an academic program.
Course learning outcomes state what students are expected to know or be able to do upon completion of a course and may contribute, or map to, program learning outcomes. Each course is expected to have three to five course learning outcomes.
Learning outcomes must be common to each offering of a course regardless of instructor, mode of instruction, etc. An instructor may have additional learning outcomes for a specific offering of a course, but these must not be in place of the approved and established course learning outcomes.
The syllabus must include:
Note: several items listed below can be copied and pasted from the course proposal form. The ordering of items does not need to match this kb, but is recommened as it aligns with the Campus Syllabus Resources.
Individual study courses are different from group instruction courses in that they do not have a predefined curriculum. Proposals to create or change an individual study course must still go through the regular course proposal process.
There are a number of areas where this type of course must follow the same requirements as all other for-credit courses:
The sample syllabus may be replaced with a directed/independent study or thesis agreement form.
See the policy about the department's responsibility to maintain copies of syllabi for offered courses:
The U.S. Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and UW-Madison recognize a course syllabus is required for each course offering.
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), UW-Madison’s accrediting body, dictates the following:
To meet these requirements, and to support the learning experience of students, instructors of record are required to develop a course syllabus for each course offering and to communicate the syllabus to students.
Students frequently seek copies of syllabi for past courses, for example to support application to graduate or professional programs, in the context of an employment search, or in relation to seeking transfer credit equivalency at another institution. For this reason, and in support of UW-Madison Faculty Policies and Procedures Chapter 5.31 D, departments must retain syllabus records of courses taught in their department. It is expected that syllabi from all course sections will be retained for a period of no less than 10 years. Departments may contact University Archives regarding the disposition of syllabi that are more than 10 years old.