Course Description

Course outline, syllabus, course description, course handbook, session outlines, etc. are terms used to describe the written presentation of one or more courses - a seminar, tutorial, lecture, etc., or even an entire module. They are documents produced during the planning process and are used for your own preparation and for communication with students and colleagues. The structure and description vary depending on the author, the type of presentation, the subject matter, the cultural background or the audience.

Types of course descriptions

On this page we distinguish between two types of description:

On the one hand, there is the shorter version that is consulted in the run-up to the lecture period and serves as a basis for the student's choice of course; we call this the course description or course concept. At Leuphana, the course descriptions are usually found in myStudy - there they are assigned to different sections - but of course you can also provide your own versions with different or more information (see examples below).  

On the other hand, there is a detailed version that guides and supports the actual course participants in their study work, i.e. preparation, follow-up and examinations; we call this the syllabus.

Unlike the module descriptions relevant to accreditation, written course outlines and syllabi are rarely mandatory. This does not mean that they are less important; on the contrary, they are

  • an early and possibly crucial interface with students = potential course participants who want to be informed about the subject matter, learning objectives and framework of the course in order to plan their semester,
  • an opportunity for lecturers = course leaders to present their approaches, perspectives and expectations regarding the course
  • a kind of contract for working together in and on a course that all participants can refer to.

For more information on the distinction between a syllabus and a course description, see this article by Kristine Tucker.

Element and reflection of Constructive Alignment

Constructive Alignment is a competency-based approach to instructional design that can provide important guidance for the design of curricula. According to it, it is essential for the success of a course to design it from the outcome, i.e. to align teaching content and learning activities as well as forms of examination with the learning objectives. This 'constructive coordination' of the triad of learning objective - learning activity - examination is reflected in the course description.

The course concept or syllabus is, on the one hand, an opportunity to reflect on the didactic dimensions of teaching and to provide information in the course of its development. On the other hand, the written and published course concept is itself a carrier or expression of Constructive Alignment, from which, for example, students can read before and during a course what it is about and where the course should lead.

For more information on Constructive Alignment and the formulation of learning objectives, see our page on Conceptualising Teaching.

Components of a course description

Writing a course outline or syllabus does not take place in a vacuum, but is influenced by

  • the content and didactic considerations of the teacher
  • the expectations of the target group, i.e. the expected participants, and

- the requirements of the framework examination regulations, subject-specific appendices, module descriptions, and organisational matters such as publication dates, registration deadlines, room management, etc.

The following questions may help to identify the components of the written course concept

  • Who are the course participants and what are their needs?
  • What are the (competence-oriented) learning objectives of the course?
  • What information is necessary - for each participant - and what is unnecessary?
  • What methods and forms of collaboration are planned?

The implementation of course descriptions and syllabi is as diverse as personal preferences, subject cultural concerns and organisational needs. Nevertheless, the following components can be considered typical and important

    Name and administrative/organisational details of the event.

  • Name and administrative/organisational data of the course.
  • Name(s) and contact details of the event organiser
  • Content / topic / theme of the event
  • Structure of the course, i.e. allocation of dates, contents, plans, literature/materials
  • Competency-based formulation of learning objectives
  • Information on the form and requirements of the examination
  • Assessment criteria and methods for assessing examination performance
  • Opportunities for feedback and consultation

Examples from the Leuphana

Where appropriate, "statements" on teaching attitudes/philosophy, expectations of interaction, good academic practice, diversity, etc.

Here you will find examples of good practice at Leuphana. These can be used either as 1:1 templates or as a basis for your own versions of a course concept/syllabus: