By Karen Cowell, RN, PhD; dean of career technical education (retired), Antelope Valley College, Lancaster, California; former dean of health sciences at Central Carolina Technical College, Sumter, South Carolina

Do you have challenges helping industry experts become strong teachers? Industry experts are invaluable in the classroom due to their workplace expertise, but they are often unfamiliar with teaching basics. SkillsCommons Industry Expert to Expert Teacher (IE2ET) Ambassadors are instructional designers or college senior staffers who have developed an onboarding course for industry experts who are new to teaching. New instructors can get a start on their teaching careers with free and open resources found in the SkillsCommons IE2ET course materials: Topics covered through the course’s materials include but are not limited to: the basics of classroom management, student engagement, how to find open educational resources, and how to integrate technology into the course.

Here is just a sampling of what instructors will learn through the course:

A smart first step is to fine tune your syllabus and clarify expectations. So what does a strong syllabus contain? Faculty want to communicate the essential information about their courses in their syllabi. Course identification information (course number, title, description, and student learning objectives) are essential for students and faculty alike. These parts of the syllabus keep all parties focused on what students should be learning in a course, and what instructors should be teaching in a specific course. The instructor’s name, office hours/location, and contact information (college’s or university’s assigned phone number and email address) should appear in a prominent location in the syllabus.

Tell students what they need to know. Required textbooks, course packets, websites, etc. should be clearly listed. The title, author(s), publisher(s), and ISBN of texts is helpful to students so they can easily find necessary resources.

Make expectations clear. List college or course “rules” clearly. These rules may be college-wide, such as statements about plagiarism and its consequences, the number of allowable absences, and the college’s official statement regarding how to get help if a student has a disability. Colleges may also have specific formats that must be followed, so faculty should ask their department chair or dean if the format is not obviously stated. Examples of class rules added by an Instructor might include:

  • How many times a student can participate in a discussion in one class session
  • When assignments must be submitted (beginning of class, end of class, prior to the beginning of class)
  • How assignments must be submitted (APA format and electronically via the college’s learning management system, for example)

What’s on tap? A class-by-class or week-by-week listing of dates of the class topics to be discussed and readings, also known as a “topical outline,” should appear in a syllabus. It is advisable to add a statement that the instructor may make changes to the topical outline as necessary, if the college permits this.

Is this for a grade? The list of graded and ungraded assignments and the weight of each assignment should be given in the syllabus along with the grading scale. Dates that assignments are due and dates that exams are scheduled should also appear in this section of the course syllabus.

A few final thoughts from a college administrator. Faculty sometimes think that detailed information is the most important feature of a syllabus. I agree, but overall clarity of the information is extremely valuable for the student and the instructor. For example, syllabi may be developed in the form of animated cartoons and manga styles, and both can be as effective in communicating the course content as the traditional syllabus. New instructors should check with the dean or department chair to determine if an alternative style of syllabus is allowable.

As a Dean, I spoke with students who could not name the course title they were enrolled in (and were failing, by the way). When asked if the students had received a course syllabus, the students almost always replied that they had. Further discussion often included the fact that students had not used the syllabus as a guide for their learning. A great resource for developing a syllabus and other practical teaching guides can be found in the IE2ET course materials: Want to know more about the SkillsCommons IE2ET IMPACTcommunity? Please visit our site at