Create a Section Syllabus or Information Sheet
Many GSIs create and distribute a syllabus for their section or lab. This document is separate from the faculty member’s course syllabus, and its purpose is to detail important information related to the section or lab only. GSIs and students refer to this document throughout the semester to clarify information about expectations and policies throughout the semester.
Integrative Biology Syllabus (pdf)
Political Science Syllabus (pdf)
Italian Studies R5B Syllabus (pdf)
Some professors prefer that their GSIs not create a section syllabus, so check with your professor. If you do create a section syllabus, or even an abbreviated document like an information sheet, make sure it’s consistent with the professor’s course policies, and ask the professor to review it before distributing it to students.
Elements of a Section Syllabus or Information Sheet
Many undergraduates have not had sections or labs prior to attending UC Berkeley. Sections and labs also vary from course to course and sometimes within courses. It is important, therefore, to include a brief description of the purpose of the section, the relationship of section to lecture, and the role of the GSI. The descriptive paragraph may give students an idea of the types of activities that will occur in section — question and answer, lab experiments, problem sets, review of lecture material, group discussion, homework, debates, film reviews, etc.
A section syllabus or information sheet should list the GSI’s office number, mailbox location, office hours, and email address. GSIs may consider including the professor’s office number and office hours. We recommend that GSIs not provide students with their phone numbers or invite text messages.
A section syllabus should include a breakdown of the grade for section as distinct from lecture (percentages for attendance, assignments, participation, etc.). Both the GSI and the students should have a clear understanding of how the students’ performance in section will be evaluated and how each element of the section grade will be weighed. Make sure to clear your grading policies with the faculty member in charge of the course.
Listing key dates and deadlines on paper allows you and your students to refer to them throughout the semester. Include dates of review sessions, paper deadlines, exams, class presentations, final exam, etc.
GSIs often include on their syllabus a statement that describes the respectful classroom climate they can aspire to and that suggests ways students can help create and maintain that climate. For example, include language that asks students to respect multiple perspectives; to use people’s preferred names and pronouns during discussions; to discuss speakers’ statements and ideas without criticizing the speakers themselves. This statement on discussion shows students that you are serious about developing and maintaining a supportive classroom environment in which all students can engage in serious, meaningful discussions without fear of reprisal. Many GSIs establish fuller guidelines for discussion with students within the first two weeks of class.
It is sometimes difficult for students to understand in advance how a comment they make may sound to someone else. For more background on respecting people’s differences in class discussions, UCB’s Division of Equity and Inclusion has posted links to many informative resources.
GSIs can minimize conflicts and misunderstandings with students by establishing and communicating clear policies the first day of section and repeating those policies throughout the semester. We recommend articulating key policies and expectations in the section syllabus or information sheet so that students have them in writing. Here are some topics GSIs should consider addressing:
Office Hours: GSIs may require or invite students to meet with them in office hours at least once during the first few weeks of the semester. This meeting has several purposes:
- To talk individually with students and get to know them.
- To inquire about the students’ preparedness for the course and understanding of the material.
- To provide feedback to students about their early performance in the course.
- To obtain feedback from students about section.
Your syllabus statement might look something like this:
For suggestions about opening up conversations in office hours, see Questions for Students in Office Hours.
Email: Many GSIs have policies regarding email communication with students so that they can manage the time they commit to teaching. A few policies about email you might include:
- Answering student questions about similar topics in bunches (rather than answering each individual question).
- Answering email at particular times of day or night, rather than every time you receive an email from students.
- Informing students that you will answer questions about course material in section or office hours.
- Helping students have reasonable expectations about your availability via email. For example, “Email messages will be answered within 24 [or 48] hours.”
Attendance and Tardiness: GSIs should note on the syllabus if they will deduct points for absences and/or lateness. GSIs should also define “absence” (e.g., excused vs. non-excused absences) and “lateness” (e.g., more than five minutes after class starts).
Late Assignments: The faculty member may have a policy about late assignments in the overall course. If not, GSIs should consider including one in their policy list. Many GSIs deduct points for late assignments, and some do not accept late assignments. Be sure that your policy on late assignments has the approval of the faculty member you are teaching with.
Grade Disputes: This too is a policy the professor’s course syllabus probably already addresses. If it does not, or if the faculty member otherwise gives you latitude to formulate your own policy, let students know in writing what your policy is for grade disputes. These disputes can take a great deal of time in a GSI’s week, so it is important to have a protocol set in advance. Consider requiring students to write out clearly each item they wish to dispute on their test or paper. (This requires students to reflect on the specifics of each item, which can result in a student recognizing that the grading is already correct.) Have the students submit their dispute prior to meeting with you, so that you can review the dispute and consider its merits carefully. You can avoid spurious grade disputes by telling students that if their assignment is re-graded, the revised grade may be lower or higher than the disputed grade. More information and sample policies appear in the Grading section of this online guide.
Laptops and Hand-Held Devices: If the Instructor of Record agrees, you have the option of deciding whether laptops and other electronics are permitted during section time. For more information on laptop policies, see Setting Policies on Student Use of Electronics in the Classroom in the Teaching with Technology chapter of the Teaching Guide. It is important to note that students with certain disabilities may need to use a laptop for note-taking, regardless of your policy; check with the professor for confirmation if someone tells you this is their situation.
Important Class and Campus Policies: Every syllabus should include statements about academic integrity, accommodations for students with disabilities, and scheduling conflicts for student athletes.
Here are a some examples of policies for syllabi, based on UC Berkeley campus policies. You may want to adapt some of the language for your particular section or lab:
Academic Integrity: Any test, paper or report submitted by you and that bears your name is presumed to be your own original work that has not previously been submitted for credit in another course unless you obtain prior written approval to do so from your instructor. You may use words or ideas written by other individuals in publications, websites, or other sources, but only with proper attribution. If you are not clear about the expectations for completing an assignment or taking a test or examination, be sure to ask me.You should also keep in mind that as a member of the campus community you are expected to demonstrate integrity in all of your academic work and be evaluated on your own merits. The consequences of cheating and academic misconduct — including a formal discipline record and possible loss of future opportunities — are not worth the risk.
Course Materials Note-Taking Policy: I encourage you to take notes from section and to share them among yourselves. However, you may not post notes or the materials I provide on any website, or disseminate them in any way without my prior, written permission. The same holds true for all course materials. Violations are subject to action by the campus Center for Student Conduct.
Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: If you have been issued a letter of accommodation from the Disabled Students Program (DSP), please see me as soon as possible to work out the necessary arrangements. If you need an accommodation and have not yet seen a Disability Specialist at the DSP, please do so as soon as possible.
If you would need any assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation of the building, the DSP recommends that you make a plan for this in advance. (Contact the DSP accest specialist at 643-6456.)
Scheduling Conflicts: Please notify me by the second week of the term about any known or potential extracurricular conflicts (such as religious observances, graduate or medical school interviews, or team activities). I will try my best to help you with making accommodations, but I cannot promise them in all cases.
Sources for campus policy information: Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism Subcommittee Report, June 18, 2004, posted at Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning website, Statements on Course Policies (adapted); GSI Professional Standards and Ethics Online Course; Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) Student Emergency Preparedness Program (pdf); Guidelines Concerning Scheduling Conflicts with Academic Requirements (pdf).
It is a good idea to include in your document information about campus resources for students. Such information might include web addresses, phone numbers, and office locations. Some key units on campus: