CET Synchronous Online Course Design Syllabus Review Checklist

Use of this specific tool is not required by USC administration; it is intended as an example of best practices. Schools and departments may choose to create their own tool, edit this tool in any way that makes it a better fit, or use this tool as it is.

Download editable print version

The CET Synchronous Online Course Design Syllabus Review Checklist provides standards for course design through syllabus review. The first, second, and third tiers include a progression of recommended course design practices. The substandard tier includes items that are contrary to best practices and/or USC policies. The checklist can be used for two purposes. It can be used as a developmental tool to provide faculty formative feedback to enhance their teaching, showing progression over multiple observations. It can also be used as an evaluative tool to document evidence of teaching performance for promotion, tenure, or continuing appointment.

This checklist was developed to include recommended course design practices relevant to most teaching environments at USC; it is editable so that schools may add or delete items to customize it to their needs.

Schools could determine how many criteria in each tier should be met in order to qualify for the various levels of advancement in the school. For example, a school could decide that for promotion from assistant to associate professor a faculty member should have none of the items checked in the Substandard Tier and all of the items checked in Tier 1.

Not Included in the Course Design Syllabus Review Checklist

  • Evaluation of course teaching practice, which is addressed in a separate Synchronous Online Teaching Observation Checklist
  • Best practices that are specific to certain fields, class types (e.g., labs, studios, clinics), or instructional methods.

Recommended Reviewer Characteristics

  • Is an expert in the field, but not necessarily in the sub-field/specialty.
  • Would ideally be the same person who observed the course and completed the Classroom Teaching Observation Checklist.
  • Has been trained by CET or by a CET Faculty Fellow to use the checklist.

Instructions for Use

  • Effective use of the checklist requires that observer and observed have met prior to the syllabus review and discussed course format and purpose, and will meet for a debrief after the observation.
  • The first- and second-tier evaluations can be accomplished with a syllabus review. The third-tier evaluation requires a review of the syllabus, assignment descriptions, grading rubrics, and other course and program materials.
  • Mark as present all checklist items observed in the course syllabus and/or other course documents.
  • This checklist was developed to include best course design practices; however, it is editable so that schools may add or delete items to customize it to their needs. Schools should determine how many criteria in each tier should be met in order to qualify for the various levels of advancement in the school

Each dimension in the checklist measures one or more criteria in USC’s Definition of Excellence in Teaching, and those criteria are noted next to the dimension name. The practices in Tiers 1, 2, and 3 are supported through training provided by CET’s faculty institutes.


Substandard Tier

Tier 1

Tier 2

Tier 3

*USC Definition of Excellence in Teaching criteria measured by each dimension are noted. Performing Below Minimum USC Teaching Policy Standard Performing at Minimum USC Teaching Policy Standard Performing at Proficient Level of Teaching Standard at USC Performing at Excellence Level of Teaching Standard at USC
Syllabus format 1b, 1c, 1d, 2g, 3e, 5d*
  • Syllabus contradicts university-policy statements on Academic Conduct and Support Systems.
  • Syllabus contains all components of the Curriculum Coordination Office template.
  • Course description section includes aspirational goals that frame why the skills in the learning objective section are important.
  • Syllabus mirrors that of other sections of the same course (same prefix and course number) taught onground, online, or off-campus (if applicable).
Communication 1b, 1d, 5b, 6e*
  • Preferred method of contact is inappropriate or not feasible for all students.
  • Syllabus provides contact information for instructor, as well as preferred method of contact.
  • Syllabus indicates how long students should wait for a response from instructor.
  • Syllabus encourages students to contact instructor outside of class.
  • Syllabus encourages students to provide feedback to the instructor.
Learning objectives 2a, 3e, 5b, 6a, 6c*
  • Learning objectives are listed in the syllabus and identify specific, measurable skills.
  • Every learning objective is measured by at least one graded assignment.
  • The learning objective being measured is noted in the assignment.
  • Learning objectives are explicitly cited in the syllabus as related to standards/goals set by program, university, profession, and/or accrediting body.
  • Learning objectives include development of skills relevant to living and working in a diverse world.
Grading 1d, 4e, 5b 5d, 6a, 6d, 6e*
  • Course credit is awarded solely for attendance.
  • An inaccurate or incomplete grade scale is provided.
  • Assignments are mis-weighted (don’t add up to 100%).
  • A grading scale includes points or percentages, and the corresponding letter grade.
  • The syllabus displays the weight of each assignment/assessment toward the overall course grade.
  • Information is provided for when graded assignments/assessments will be returned.
  • If credit is awarded for participation, it is no more than 15% of the grade, and the method for grading participation is specified.
  • Student grades are based on their performance against clear grading criteria aligned with course learning objectives.
  • Student grades are based on their individual performance, without reference to the performance of other students (i. e., curving).
  • Group work has a method of measuring individual student’s contribution to the project.
  • Extra credit is not offered.
  • Grades are maintained on a secure online system for students to access, such as a LMS.
  • Participation credit is awarded for in-class work in synchronous sessions
Assignments and Assessments 1d, 2a, 2b, 2d, 3c, 3d, 3e, 5b, 6a, 6b, 6c, 6d, 6e*
  • The method of grading/scoring for assignments and assessments is unclear, inappropriate, or unfair.
  • The method of grading/scoring for each assignment or assessment is specified in the syllabus.
  • Due dates for all assignments are specified.
  • Assessment is done using a variety of methods (e.g., exams, projects, presentations, etc.)
  • Each assessment or assignment has its own specific description.
  • Course includes multiple low-stakes assignments distributed across the course to prepare for larger assignments.
  • Grading rubrics are provided for all major assignments along with the assignment description.
  • Grading rubric requirements align to the assignment description.
  • Assignments include examination of underrepresented perspectives or populations.
  • Course includes at least one community-based assignment or an assignment that requires examination of a challenge from the perspective of multiple disciplines.
Course materials
(can include readings, videos, audio recordings, etc.)
1d, 3c, 3e, 4a, 5d*
  • There are no required course materials.
  • Required resources are not equitably available to all students.
  • Required and optional (if any) course materials are specified separately in the syllabus.
  • Syllabus specifies which resources must be purchased and where/how other resources are available.
  • Course materials or topics include diverse perspectives, authors, or applications.
  • Course materials include materials related to current local, national, and/or global events, when pertinent to course learning objectives.
  • Instructor-created materials demonstrate fair attention to topics and issues regardless of personal beliefs and without revealing one’s bias or appearing to push a personal agenda.
  • Course readings include influential and current peer-reviewed journal articles (or discipline equivalent) when pertinent to course learning objectives.
  • Course content is presented in multiple formats (e.g., video, text).
  • Content follows recommended best practices for accessibility.
Course outline 1b, 3d, 4b, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a*
  • The plan indicates cancelled classes and/or changes to the official listed class meeting time or duration/contact hours.
  • There are no readings and/or graded assignments for the course.
  • A plan for the semester is provided and includes session  topics, readings, and assignment due dates.
  • The plan for the semester includes description of session in-class work and active learning.
  • Assignment due dates have not been scheduled on religious days of obligation.
  • The plan for the semester includes specific instructional plans for each session with a lesson objective tied to the course learning objectives.
Student participation and engagement in course 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 2a, 2b, 2c, 2g, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d, 4e, 4f, 5b, 5c, 6e*
  • Syllabus has no reference to expectations for appropriate behavior.
  • Syllabus establishes expectations that students’ communication, behavior, and participation are respectful, professional, and appropriate.
  • Syllabus outlines expectation for inclusive behavior in the course.
  • Syllabus provides other course behavioral norms relevant to course learning objectives, or indicates that the class will work together to compose course norms.
  • Syllabus establishes expectations that students assume responsibility for their learning through active learning or experiential learning.
  • Syllabus indicates students’ statements of fact should be based on facts from course materials or other credible sources, and appropriately cited during course  discussions.
  • Syllabus outlines opportunities for students to take leadership roles in the course or profession.
  • Syllabus includes opportunities for students to add unique, discipline-based content to the course.
  • Syllabus incorporates professional codes of ethics, USC student code of conduct, and/or USC code of ethics.
Other course policies 1b, 1c, 1d, 2g, 3e, 4d, 4e, 6e*
  • Consequences for late assignment submission and missed classes unduly burden certain populations.
  • Policy on use of electronic devices during class unduly burdens certain populations who may be required to use it (i.e., due to an accommodation).
  • Minimum technology requirements for the course are not clearly stated, and/or information on how to obtain the technologies is not provided.
  • Syllabus specifies consequences for late assignment submission and missed classes.
  • Prerequisite tech skills expected of the learner are clearly stated.
  • Syllabus contains a clear description of technology support offered and how to obtain it.
  • Suitable technology requirements are clearly stated and instructions provided.
  • Required technology is attainable by students.
  • Syllabus specifies consequences for academic integrity violations.
Course and Instructor Evaluation 1a, 1d, 2b, 2c, 2e, 3a, 3b, 5b, 7a, 7c*
  • Syllabus indicates inappropriate consequences or rewards for completing the end-of-course university student course evaluation.
  • Syllabus explains end-of-course university student course evaluation process.
  • Syllabus explains end-of-course university student course evaluation purpose and the importance of student engagement with the process.
  • Student self- and/or peer-evaluation is planned.