Changes to your syllabus

Changes to your syllabus

Although it is essential to ensure your syllabus is clear and transparent in “normal” times, this is especially true this fall. Please consider including in your syllabus:

  • explicit statements about policies and requirements specific to this semester in a warm tone
  • well-being resources that might be helpful for your students

Syllabus statements

For this fall — as in every semester — your syllabus should clearly state your expectations and policies for students in your subject.  It is particularly important this semester to also articulate your support for student well-being and flexibility with respect to COVID-related absences. According to the Healthy Minds study, the number of students experiencing high levels of depression and anxiety is on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, a top concern of students surveyed was uncertainty around faculty flexibility with respect to their COVID-related struggles. You can help reduce anxiety by acknowledging the circumstances explicitly and articulating our shared humanity in having to cope with pandemic-related challenges and stress. If you ignore the current circumstances, it is likely to exacerbate student stress and anxiety. 

This page provides examples of language you might use or adapt in your syllabuses this semester in response to the challenges posed by teaching during the ongoing COVID disruption.

If you are already planning to incorporate elements to support student absences, you’ll want to describe them in your syllabus.  Consider, for example:

  • Will you be recording class sessions?
  • Are there existing class recordings from previous semesters that you plan to use?
  • Do you have a mechanism for collecting and distributing class notes, etc?

For more information, see Planning for COVID-related absences on this website.

The text below is an example of language you can use to communicate your awareness of the challenges of the coming semester and your commitment to work with students to make sure they can still learn effectively. Feel free to use the text below in your syllabus or tailor the language to capture the policies or accommodations you have in place or to sound like it is written in your voice. When a syllabus has a warm and friendly tone and communicates compassion, students develop more positive impressions of their instructor (Harnish & Bridges, 2011) and are more likely to seek help when they struggle (Gurung & Galardi, 2021). 

If you are notified that you must isolate or quarantine because of a COVID-related issue – please know that I am committed to working with S3 or GradSupport to support your continued learning this semester. I understand how difficult these times are and we will all need to remain flexible and adjust to the situation. The details of what may be required will vary depending on the timing and duration of your absence.  Please feel free to reach out to me at any point if you have any questions or concerns.

You may also want to include a statement about the MIT campus-wide mask policy (“One mask down at a time in classrooms & labs”) and your commitment to enforcing that policy. For example:

MIT’s masking policy of “One mask down at a time in classrooms, meetings, etc” ) is designed to keep students and instructors as safe as possible this semester. In light of this, please note that any person who does not follow the masking rules will be asked to leave our classroom. If you need to remove your mask for any reason, while someone else in the room is unmasked, please feel free to leave the room and find a safe space to remove your mask.  You may return any time after your mask is securely and properly in place.

If you have particular questions or concerns about masking requirements in your teaching and learning spaces, please reach out to covidclasshelp@mit.edu.

Well-being resources to include in your syllabus

For any semester, it is recommended that you include mental health and disability & access support statements on your syllabus. Templates and suggestions for wording can be found here.

In addition to these statements, you may also wish to include resources to support student health and well-being.  These include:

References

Gurung, R. A. R., & Galardi, N. R. (2021). Syllabus tone, more than mental health statements, influences intentions to seek help. Teaching of Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628321994632

Harnish, R. J., & Bridges, K. R. (2011). Effect of syllabus tone: Students’ perceptions of instructor and course. Social Psychology of Education, 14, 319-330. doi: 10.1007/s11218-011-9152-4