Designing a Motivational Syllabus

Are you ready to revise or create a syllabus that promotes equity and acts as a motivational tool for student learning?

Are you using the syllabus as a motivational tool? Do you consider your syllabus to be a document that encourages student engagement? The syllabus is perhaps one of our most important educational tools and yet most faculty have never received training on how to develop an effective syllabus.

I used to think that a syllabus was a transactional document that did not have much of an impact. After this course, I see it as a powerful tool, useful to set the tone for the rest of the term.

Jessica Villena Sánchez, Geography TA, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Denver

What do students think about the syllabus and how do they actually use it? What do studies about the syllabus suggest for best practice?

In this course, you will explore current research about effective syllabi and how tone, visual tools, and length can motivate and engage students. Join us as we discover how simple but powerful changes can make a world of difference and set your students up for success.

You will use a syllabus rubric based on theory and research, and be exposed to fresh ideas and strategies to design a revised syllabus that is sure to increase motivation and learning. 

Develop transparent, equity-minded practices while re-energizing your course roadmap.

Join our online course to develop strategies from the book.

  • Offered fully online through Canvas
  • Two and 1/2 weeks in length
  • Facilitated with personalized feedback at every step
  • Asynchronous format
  • Approximately 20 hours to complete
  • Small cohort size
  • Cost: $495
  • Book required*

*You will need to obtain the book, Designing a Motivational Syllabus, prior to the course. Discounted purchase information is available through registration.

Participant Outcomes

In this course, you will:

  • Recognize the purpose and value of the syllabus
  • Integrate practical ideas and lessons from research studies on syllabus tone, language, content, and length
  • Identify the intersection of the syllabus and student motivation and the powerful role of the faculty member in creating and sustaining student motivation
  • Evaluate your syllabus using a syllabus rubric 
  • Revise or create a syllabus based on theory and research to provide a roadmap for student success

I’m actually realizing that putting in the time to develop a well-thought out syllabus will make teaching the course so much easier! A well designed syllabus can enhance the approach you take with the course and provide a solid foundation for all the activities you plan to do in the future.”

– Hilary Greenberger,  Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, Ithaca College


In this course, you will develop a roadmap for your students while also re-energizing your teaching practice. By following this guided process for redesigning your syllabus, you will see the motivational potential of this document, develop transparent, equity-minded practices, and adopt simple but powerful practices that make a difference in your students success!


In this 2 and 1/2 week course you will not only learn about the current theory and research behind an effective syllabus by viewing lessons from the authors, but you will apply the principles to your own syllabus. This is a facilitated course, with multiple opportunities for interaction and individual feedback from an experienced facilitator and from fellow colleagues.

The course is offered in a fully-online asynchronous format through the Canvas software. There are no real-time meetings required, however, it is not self-paced. Active participation and specific due dates keep the group working together and sharing constructive feedback and ideas at each step of the process and ensure successful completion.

Intended Audience

This course will be beneficial to college faculty and staff and anyone who develops syllabi or reviews and provides feedback about using the syllabus as a resource. Instructors at all levels — from experienced faculty to graduate students teaching their first course — can benefit from taking a high-level and systematic view of this valuable educational tool.


Babasola Fateye

Assistant Professor, Biomedical Sciences, Grand Valley State University

“This really is the first time I am thinking about the implicit rhetoric in my syllabi – that the syllabus was previously created for me and not for my students. It’s been a great experience. Allowing me to review my syllabus from a systematic manner has been really useful.”

Mark Earley

Assistant Professor, Mathematics, Columbus State Community College

“This course helped change my beliefs regarding the purpose of my syllabus. Before, my syllabus ‘informed’ students about policies and course information. Now, I have shifted to informing students about ‘why, what this means for you, and the options you have.’ This is one of the first documents students look for when the course begins, so why not use that opening to get them interested and motivated rather than bogged down with rules?”

Valerie Hostettler

Curriculum and Instruction EdD Candidate, University of Denver

“I am so used to syllabi at this point that I don’t remember how overwhelming they can seem! I think before I did the reflection on my syllabus I just assumed it was obvious what I wanted from students. However, I needed to remind myself that I’ve been at this a long time, and they have not.”

The Authors

Dr. Christine Harrington is Associate Professor and Co-Coordinator for the Ed.D. in Community College Leadership program at New Jersey City University. She has served as the Executive Director of the Center for Student Success at the New Jersey Council of County Colleges and a professor of psychology, student success coordinator, director of the Center for Enrichment of Learning and Teaching, and counselor at Middlesex County College. Christine is the 2016 recipient of the Excellence in Teaching First-Year Seminars award. She has authored several books and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Lehigh University.

Melissa Thomas works with college and universities to implement best practices in technology and learning assistance through her consulting work with Study Edge. She was previously a Lecturer for the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin for the TIP Scholars FYE program, adjunct FYE and academic recovery course instructor, Director of the Center for Student Learning at the College of Charleston, coordinator of an academic support program, and Past President of the College Reading and Learning Association. She has published several books and articles and holds a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) from the University of Texas at Austin.