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.
If you are teaching R&C, you are in charge of designing a full syllabus and semester schedule. For an overview of syllabus creation specific to R&C, see The R&C Course Syllabus. Much of the advice below can still be helpful to R&C GSIs.
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 is consistent with the professor’s course policies and ask the professor to review it before distributing it to students.
It is also important to go over this document in-person during the first class (See Plan the First Day’s Session). This helps students better absorb what can be often seem a very weighty, formal document and to offer them the opportunity to ask questions.
Finally, consider how you want to distribute your syllabus. It can help to share this document in multiple formats so that students can both easily access it throughout the semester and better absorb its information. In addition to providing students with a hard copy during the first class, many GSIs and instructors choose to upload their syllabus to their bCourses site or copy and paste its information onto their bCourses frontpage. Others have tinkered with using another online platform. However, if you choose to go this latter route, keep in mind that the university may not have vetted these platforms for privacy, security, and accessibility. For a list of supported online learning tools, see Berkeley Research, Teaching, and Learning (RTL).
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 aspire to foster 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 community agreements 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 differences in class discussions, UCB’s Division of Equity and Inclusion has posted links to many informative resources.
Diversity is a defining feature of the University of California and we embrace it as a source of strength. Our differences — of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, socioeconomic status, abilities, experience, and more — enhance our ability to achieve the University’s core missions of public service, teaching, and research. We welcome faculty, staff, and students from all backgrounds and want everyone at UC Berkeley to feel respected and valued.
Ideally, your faculty supervisor will provide a statement about accommodations in the main course syllabus. However, because GSIs are often the first contact for students throughout the semester, it can be very valuable to clarify and emphasize the university’s approach to accommodations in a section syllabus. Syllabi should include a statement that both welcomes students of all abilities and clearly outlines the steps for securing disability accommodations from the Disabled Students’ Program (DSP). Consider putting this information towards the beginning of your syllabus, where it is clearly noticeable, and make sure to go over it verbally in class. Because accommodations can take time to arrange, it is important that students begin this process as soon as they are aware that they need – or may need – a disability accommodation. Remember to protect student privacy: encourage them to speak with you about accommodations through a separate one-on-one chat or in office hours. If a student in your section comes to speak to you about accommodation needs, keep your faculty member updated. Beginning of semester surveys can also be an excellent avenue for students to communicate their accommodation needs; see an example survey here.
Sample syllabus statement on accommodations:
“UC Berkeley is committed to creating a learning environment that meets the needs of its diverse student body. If you anticipate or experience any barriers to learning in this course, please feel welcome to discuss your concerns with me.
If you have a disability, or think you may have a disability, you can work with the Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) to request an official accommodation. The Disabled Students’ Program (DSP) is the campus office responsible for authorizing disability-related academic accommodations, in cooperation with the students themselves and their instructors. There are approximately 5,000 students at Cal who receive services from the DSP. The majority are students with nonapparent or invisible disabilities. You can find more information about DSP, including contact information and the application process here: dsp.berkeley.edu.
I encourage students with disabilities to have a conversation with me about your access accommodations even if you have already had DSP send me a letter. Accommodation letters do not always take into account the particularities of every class, so I encourage you to communicate any issue you have or anticipate having this semester. Even if you don’t have access issues with this class, consider a conversation with me as practice for conversations you may have with other professors or in a job interview. Also, suggestions you have about making this class more accessible for you will potentially make it more accessible and inclusive for everyone.
Students who need academic accommodations or have questions about their accommodations should contact DSP, located at 260 César Chávez Student Center. Students may call 510-642-0518 (voice), 510-642-6376 (TTY), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
From the Disabled Students’ Program, Teaching and Inclusive Design
We recognize that Berkeley sits on the territory of xučyun (Huichin [Hoo-Choon]), the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo (Cho-chen-yo) speaking Ohlone people, the successors of the historic and sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Muwekma (Muh-wek-muh) Ohlone Tribe and other familial descendants of the Verona Band.
We recognize that every member of the Berkeley community has benefitted, and continues to benefit, from the use and occupation of this land since the institution’s founding in 1868. Consistent with our values of community and diversity, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make visible the university’s relationship to Native peoples. By offering this Land Acknowledgement, we affirm Indigenous sovereignty and will work to hold the University of California, Berkeley more accountable to the needs of American Indian and Indigenous peoples. This statement was developed in partnership with the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and is a living document.
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 ascertain 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 Starting Conversations 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 common email policies 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 establish 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 instructor 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 establish a protocol 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 often avoid spurious grade disputes by warning 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.
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.
On Confidentiality: As UC employees, all course instructors and tutors are “Responsible Employees” and are therefore required to report incidents of sexual violence, sexual harassment, or other conduct prohibited by University policy to the Title IX officer. Instructors and tutors cannot keep reports of sexual harassment or sexual violence confidential, but the Title IX officer will consider requests for confidentiality. Note that there are confidential resources available to you through UCB’s PATH to Care Center, which serves survivors of sexual violence and sexual harassment; call their 24/7 Care Line at 510-643-2005.
Sources for campus policy information: 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:
- Student Learning Center
- Counseling and Psychological Services
- University Health Services
- PATH to Care Center
- Ombuds Office for Students and Postdoctoral Appointees
- Gender Equity Resource Center
- Disabled Students’ Program
- Berkeley International Office
- Centers for Educational Justice & Community Engagement