Supplemental Resources: Supporting Student Learning

Syllabus Design

The following section includes resources specific to designing syllabi at UW-Madison, tools and templates for structuring your course, and best practices for composing inclusive syllabi. Due credit goes to Bonni Stachowiak and Angela Jenks for sharing many of these resources in the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast (Episode 280: “Syllabus Resources.“)

Page Navigation: Key Resources  |  Learning Outcomes  |  Course Calendar and Credit Hours  |  Inclusive Syllabus Design  |  Office Hours

Key Resources and UW-Specific Information

Fall 2020 Covid-19 Update: The Assessment team at UW-Madison has created an updated syllabus template that you can adapt for your courses. It includes some language for instructors about student rules, rights, and responsibilities related to Covid-19, including details about face coverings and digital privacy. To find the most current version of this template, click on the “Syllabus Template and Communicating Course Expectations” dropdown on the Fall 2020 instruction website.

Course Syllabi at UW-Madison (Overview) – This page provides an essential starting point for faculty designing syllabi at UW. Among other resources, it includes a link a syllabus template instructors can adapt for their own purposes.

Composing and Revising Course-Level Learning Outcomes

MTLE Learning Outcomes Overview

MTLE Learning Outcomes Development Examples – This annotated resource provides examples of ineffective learning outcomes, explains why they are not effective, and provides revised versions of those outcomes.

Student Learning Outcomes (UW-Madison Office of the Provost) – This page provides suggestions about how to draft student-centered learning outcomes.

Planning Your Course Calendar and Credit Hours

Credit Hours

Course Credit Information Required for Syllabi at UW-Madison 

Course Workload Calculator – Rice CTE – This page includes an interactive workload calculator and, most importantly, an overview of the evidence base behind student reading and writing speeds when engaging with different forms of content. Some notable guidelines from this page:

  • “The optimal reading rate of the skilled adult reader (including college students) is around 300 words per minute. This assumes a “normal” reading environment in which there are no new words or concepts in the text and the purpose of the reading is to understand the meaning of each sentence (Rayner et al., 2016; Carver, 1982).”
  • “In conditions where the material is more difficult (i.e., with some new words and concepts), the optimal reading rate slows to 200 words per minute (Carver, 1992).”
  • “Combining what we know with what we assume allows us to construct the following table of estimated reading rates (with rates about which we are most confident in yellow)”

Average Reading Speed Rate

450 Words (Paperback) 600 Words (Monograph) 750 Words (Textbook)
Survey; No New Concepts (500 wpm) 67 pages per hour 50 pages per hour 40 pages per hour
Survey; Some New Concepts (350 wpm) 47 pages per hour 35 pages per hour 28 pages per hour
Survey; Many New Concepts (250 wpm) 33 pages per hour 25 pages per hour 20 pages per hour
Understand; No New Concepts (250 wpm) 33 pages per hour 25 pages per hour 20 pages per hour
Understand; Some New Concepts (180 wpm) 24 pages per hour 18 pages per hour 14 pages per hour
Understand; Many New Concepts (130 wpm) 17 pages per hour 13 pages per hour 10 pages per hour
Engage; No New Concepts (130 wpm) 17 pages per hour 13 pages per hour 10 pages per hour
Engage; Some New Concepts (90 wpm) 12 pages per hour 9 pages per hour 7 pages per hour
Engage; Many New Concepts (65 wpm) 9 pages per hour 7 pages per hour 5 pages per hour

(Source: Rice CTE Workload Calculator)

Course Calendars

Caleb McDaniel’s Generic Syllabus Calendar Maker allows instructors to specify their seminar start dates, select their course meeting days, and receive a list of their course meeting dates in their preferred date format. (Note that this does not include holidays.)

The UW-Madison Academic Calendar page provides key semester dates and deadlines.

The University of Iowa provides a list of holy days for instructors to take into consideration when planning key deadlines in the semester.

Inclusive and Accessible Syllabus Design

Tulane’s Accessible Syllabus project site contains information about how to compose an inclusive syllabus. The key pages in the project detail ways to create visually accessible text and image organization, discuss how to describe course policies using respectful language that increases student self-efficacy, and provide examples of course policies designed to help students take responsibility for their learning.

Resources for Writing Syllabus Accessibility Statements:

Office Hours

At their best, office hours can provide the kinds of interactions among students and faculty that promote student learning and self-efficacy (Cotten & Wilson, 2006; Freeman & Walsh, 2013). However, in a 2017 survey of 625 students at a public research university in the US,  Smith et al. identified several common misconceptions about office hours that prevented students from using them effectively. The authors state:

students are most likely to perceive office hours as the last resort they can turn to when an academic crisis (e.g. an anticipated failing score) is on the horizon, rather than as an institutional resource that may be regularly used for a broader set of fruitful interactions with faculty members. . . [S]tudents need explicit guidance about what office are intended to do: they need accessible models of what office hours can offer and how to make use of this resource. (15)

For additional details and a review of the literature on office hours attendance, see  Smith et al. 2017, “‘Office Hours are Kind of Weird’: Reclaiming a Resource to Foster Student-Faculty Interaction.”

Practical Takeaways:

When describing office hours in your course syllabus, consider the following best practices:

  1. Describe some of the reasons why students might use office hours. For instance, students might attend office hours to:
    • receive guidance on an assignment
    • discuss specific questions about course material
    • brainstorm topics for an upcoming paper
    • take a deeper look at feedback on a past assignment or exam with the goal of helping students prepare for future assignments and exams
    • discuss how the course or discipline may fit into the student’s career goals
  2. Offer students multiple ways of accessing office hours.
    • The Faculty Focus article “Two Tips to Increase Students’ Use of Office Hours” describes strategies for scheduling office hours, ways to survey students to find optimal times for office hours, and ways to hold virtual office hours to even the playing field for students who may have complex family or employment obligations.
  3. In your syllabus and in class, describe what students should expect from office hours and how they can prepare. 
    • For an example of an “Office Hours Tasting Menu” handout you’re welcome to adapt for your students, see this MTLE resource: Improving Office Hours.”


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Syllabus Design by Christian Castro, Naomi Salmon, and Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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