Elements of an Effective Course Outline

Having distributed the outline in the first class, spend time discussing it. Emphasize that the course outline contains vital information students need to understand to do well in the course. Make reading and understanding the course outline the first assigned reading in the course. Refer back to the course outline throughout the course, not just in the first class. Before each assignment, for example, refer back to the scoring criteria contained in the outline; encourage students to re-read course objectives before beginning papers or projects to remind themselves what is the purpose of the course, and therefore, of the assessment. Or ask, "What was today's topic? What does it say in the course outline again?" to reinforce the idea that the outline is guiding what happens in the course. Finally, ecourage students to consult the course outline before emailing redundant questions to the instructor concerning due dates, assignment details, and so on. [Training students how to make use of the coure outline not only reduces pressure on your own email, but also that of colleagues, by providig students with an essential skill for greater self-reliance.]

For introductory classes where first year students may be overwhelmed by a too-thick outline, considere dividing it into two documents: a short course outline distributed in the first class, and a thicker "Course Guide" that could be handed out a litttle later when students have settled into university life and are now ready and looking for additional advice on how to be successful in the course.