Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency

Syllabus Writing Guide

A Step-by-Step Guide for Designing a Quality Syllabus in the Avatar System

This guide may be printed for future reference.

Return to Planning Professional Development

Accessing the Avatar System

Go to and click on the Course Catalog tab to log into the Avatar system. Use your first initial, last name, followed by the last two digits of your social security number (flast00) as the username. Use the last six digits of your social security number as the password (123456). Click on the Login button. Click here to contact the Professional Development office for assistance with your account or login.

Accessing the Admin Side of Avatar

Once you have logged into the program, click on Admin (found on gray menu bar near top of screen) to access the administrative side of Avatar. Click on Courses to view a submenu. To create a new course, click on Create Course. To open or edit an exiting course, click on Open/Edit Course.

COURSE LEVEL: Properties Tab

  • Course Name - The title of the course should align with the learning outcomes for the course, and written thesis-style (specific, but brief). Examples:
    • Assessing for Learning: Principles of Practice
    • Characteristics of Effective Instruction: Teaching for Learner Differences--Lower Elementary
    • Program-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (Ages 3-5)
    • Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
    • Technology Integration and Instruction for the 21st Century Learner: Classroom Implementation
    • Using Assessments for Communicating, Planning, and Monitoring Student Learning
  • Code - Skip this item.

  • Course Type - Select instructor-led, unless you are working on a specialized format for a class. Before using web-based or blended, please click here to contact the Professional Development office.

  • Allow Re-registration - Select "No."

  • Required For - Skip this item.

  • Recommended For - This is optional and does not need to be selected.

  • Keyword Data - Use possible search words that are not listed in the title of your course and target the desired audience for this learning. Enter key words or phrases here, separating each with a comma. If your course qualifies for substitute or paraeducator renewal, enter "sub" or "para" as keywords. If your course is a summer offering, enter "summer" as a keyword.  Examples:  paraeducator, substitute teacher, fluency, inquiry, arithmetic, math, diversity, behavior, sub, para, summer, etc.

  • Prerequisite Notes - If there is any previous knowledge, skills, or things a participant should have in order to be successful in this course, list or describe them here. Otherwise, type "None Required" in this box. Examples:  "Prior knowledge with Word Journeys would be necessary,"  "Participants in this class must have access to a classroom of students," or "Must have taken the Positive Behavior Supports: Level II course as a prerequisite to taking this course."

  • Stipend - Skip this item. Before using this item, please click here to contact the Professional Development office.

  • Course Categories - Select one or more items that closely reflect what the focus is for this learning experience.

  • In District - Select "No - Available to Anyone" when the course is area-wide. Select "Yes - Available only to district staff" when the course is a closed or restricted audience or in-district course.  Multiple districts sharing professional development under the same syllabus would be considered a closed audience.

  • Approver - Select the person to whom this syllabus will be submitted for approval.

  • Research - Identify the most current research on this topic and its source.

  • School Improvement Rationale - Describe in general terms what the intended impact will be.

  • Grade Range - Select one or more grade ranges that are appropriate for this work. Even if your course is specific to a grade range, this course might also serve well the needs of others outside this particular grade range.

  • Impact on Teaching and Learning - Specifically describe the expected changes in teaching and learning as a result of this work for teachers and their students. If the work is distal and does not have a direct effect on teaching and learning, then describe specifically what expected changes will be, for whom, and how that relates to having an impact on teaching and learning.

  • Theory -Describe what methods will be used to present the current research listed above. Examples: direct instruction, peer collaboration, individual investigation, viewing video, role play, etc.

  • Demonstrations - Describe how the theory will be demonstrated for the participants. Examples: by the instructor, peer observation, peer review, video, etc.

  • Opportunities for Practice and Feedback Options - Describe how and when participants will practice what is learned and what kind of feedback will be provided to them. How will the course facilitator or participants monitor progress of their learning and how will assessing for learning strategies be used? Examples: pre-/post-tests to monitor progress of learning, specific feedback that allows participants to see where their next steps are in the learning process, self-assessments to monitor progress against the learning goals, adjustments in instruction based on assessment and monitoring data, etc.

  • Class Materials - List the texts, packets, and other materials that participants will use in this course. Include the required reading list in this section.

  • Target Audience - Select one or more to identify the target audience(s) for this course. This will display in the syllabus.

  • Competencies - Skip this item. Use of this section is strictly for Child Development Associate (CDA) use.

  • Pedagogy v. Content - If this course focuses heavier on the pedagogy of teaching more than it focuses on the content, select "Pedagogy." If this course focuses more on content than pedagogy, select "Content."

  • Proximal v. Distal - If this course directly affects student learning, select "Proximal."  If this course indirectly affects student learning, select "Distal." In-district classes and learning teams are more likely to affect student learning in a proximal way.

  • Additional Certificate Information - Skip this item. Click here to contact the Professional Development office before using this section.

  • Credits - Classes and learning teams can be designed to offer license renewal or graduate credits if the learning plan includes a minimum of 15 contact hours per credit, has collaboration and reflective learning, and has an impact on teaching and learning. Determine if this course meets criteria for credit and select the desired credit options. Click on the Add One button for each credit option. Fees will be put in by the Professional Development office. Below are examples of typical credit offerings:

    Area-wide class or learning team with instructor Amount Fees
    Drake University Graduate Credit (i) 1 $140
    Morningside College Graduate Credit (i) 1 $115
    License Renewal (i) 1 $60



  • Approved Credit Types - Skip this item. For Professional Development office use only.

  • Apply Button - Click the Apply Button before advancing to the next tab.

COURSE LEVEL:  PD Activity Tab

  • PD Activity Type - Select Class or Learning Team from the drop menu. Only select Workshop if this course is less than 15 contact hours and is not offered for credit. A class is generally facilitated by an instructor with direct instruction, may or may not have immediate implementation, and has a short timeline. A learning team is usually self-directed learning by team members with minimal direct instruction, has implementation, and is ongoing throughout the school year.

  • Rubrics - Click the Browse Button to upload the evaluation rubric that corresponds with the learning goals (outcomes) and class requirements for this course. A rubric template can be found by clicking here to view Developer Resources and is available for your use. Tip: It is easier to create a rubric after the learning goals (outcomes) have been written.

  • Evaluation of Learning - If a rubric has been uploaded, then type "Refer to rubric for details" in this box. If no rubric has been uploaded, then both quantitative and qualitative measures must be clearly defined here for learners for each possible grade of A, B, or F. Tip: Letter grades A, B, or F are awarded for graduate credits. Pass (P) or Fail (F) is awarded for license renewal credits. To earn a pass, participants must earn at least an A or B. An Incomplete (I) is awarded if participants do not pass and they should be given an opportunity to complete the necessary work before a failing grade is awarded. If provisional work becomes necessary, it is agreed upon by both the instructor and participant.

  • Evaluation of Learning (Refer to Rubric) - If a rubric has been uploaded, click on this Checkbox. If a rubric has not been uploaded, leave this box unchecked.

  • Class Requirements - These should answer the question, "What activities must the learner experience in order to understand and do the concepts and skills as defined in the learning goals for this course?" These tasks can be defined in detail or in chunks. If possible, list them sequentially. Tip: Class requirements must align with the course learning goals (outcomes), found in the Overview section of this plan, and with the rubric.

  • Collaboration - Describe about how collaboration will happen during the learning experience. Example: Participants will work as a professional learning community in teams to effectively study and design classroom instruction that meets the diverse learning needs of each student. Peer collaboration will include co-planning, co-facilitating, and peer observation. A culminating peer review will be done in the format of a gallery walk where participants will present to peers what worked, did not work, and why. Peers will have opportunity to ask questions and network with others at the end of each peer review session.

  • Plan for Implementation - Describe how participants in this course will be able to plan and implement concepts and skills learned. Example: Large group, small group, paired activities, and individual work will provide a forum for planning and implementing differentiated instruction. Teams will meet two times monthly to monitor the implementation–data study, co-plan, co-instruct, examine student work, adjust instruction, plan instructional supports for learners, and evaluate the impact on student learning.

  • Formative Assessment of Adult Learners - Answer the questions, "What do they already know?", "How will I know they are understanding as they are learning?", "How will I know they have learned it?", and "What will I do with those who already know this?" Determine what measures to use for collection of information that answers these questions.


Participants will complete a series of measures to determine:

  1. prerequisite skills they bring to the learning experience (prerequisite assessment)
  2. their readiness to learn the concepts outlined in this course (pre-assessment)
  3. interests and learning preferences (profile)
  4. level of understanding (checks for understanding)

This information will be used to guide the instruction before and during the course.

  • Schedule of Implementation Checkpoint - Select the frequency that best represents when implementation will be monitored. Tip: A class may not have implementation until later and could select a frequency that corresponds with the meeting dates of the course, like "Daily" or "Weekly". For a learning team, select any frequency that has been planned to support the implementation.
  • Save Button - Click the Save Button before advancing to the next tab.

COURSE LEVEL: Standards Tab

  • Iowa Teaching Standards - Select any standards that connect to the work defined in this course.

  • Iowa Leadership Standards - Select any standards that connect to the work defined in this course. Tip: These are only used if administrators will be taking this course. Otherwise, these standards can be left unchecked.

  • Save Button - Click the Save Button before advancing to the next tab.

COURSE LEVEL: Description Tab

  • Introduction - Use this box to write a course description that is appropriate for advertising this course. Include as much information needed to give the viewer an idea of what this course has to offer.


This course focuses on finding answers to these questions:

  1. Why it is important for teachers to know their students as learners and understand their interests and readiness to learn?
  2. Is it necessary to differentiate every minute of every day?
  3. What obstacles exist in the launching of differentiated instruction in the classroom?

This course provides guidance for educators who are interested in providing a learning environment that addresses the diverse needs of today's learners. Principles and strategies provided can help address many learning profile, interest, and readiness needs by helping educators determine what differentiated instruction really is, why it is appropriate for all learners, how to begin planning for it, and how to help students feel safe enough to take risks involved in the learning process.

Recommendation:  Successful staff development requires leadership that will guide continuous instructional improvement in the classroom, use of research-based resources, and collaboration with a learning community to accomplish the mission, vision, values, and goals.

  • Overview - This section is a vital part of the syllabus because it is where the learning targets are written. These learning goals (outcomes) must be aligned with the criteria used on the evaluation rubric, and with the performance tasks described under the Class Requirements section of this plan. It is recommended that learning goals (outcomes) be written using the know, understand, and do (KUD) framework. A KUD template, found in the Developer Resources, can be used as a guide for writing effective learning goals.


Participants will know that --

Good curriculum starts with clarity about what students should know, understand, and be able to do (KUD).

On-going assessment informs instruction.

Respectful units of instruction, taught within a respectful environment, allow for accomplishing mastery efficiently and effectively.

The use of flexible grouping ensures that students work within their zone of proximal development (ZPD) to advance their level of mastery.

Participants will understand that --

Good curriculum, on-going assessment, respectful instruction, and flexible grouping within a respectful environment yields effective teaching and learning.

Differentiation happens when the know and do are matched with the learner needs while the understand is kept constant (not differentiated).

Participants will be able to do these tasks --

Design a unit of instruction using the framework that answers the questions:

  1. What do students need to k now?
  2. What do students need to understand?
  3. What do students need to be able to do?

Design and use planned on-going assessments to inform differentiated teaching and learning.

Design and use respectful instruction within a respectful learning environment.

Design and use flexible groups within each student's zone of proximal development (ZPD).

  • Save Button - Click the Save Button before advancing to the next tab.


  • FAQ Section - Skip this entire section. It is for Professional Development office use only.

COURSE LEVEL: Author Bio Tab

  • Bibliography Section - Skip this item unless you are designing an online course. In which case, contact the Professional Development office for assistance.


When you are ready to begin creating a class or learning team from, click on this tab to begin. You also click here to find an existing class or learning team.

CLASS LEVEL:  Properties Tab

Workflow - From the drop menu, select your personal workflow. If one does not display in the menu, contact the Professional Development Office for assistance. You will not be able to create a class or learning team without a workflow.

Class Name - This must be identical to the course title, but may have additional information in parentheses following the title. Below are samples of course titles. Additional information listed has been color coded in gray to illustrate how additional clarifying information can be added at the class level.

Assessing for Learning: Principles of Practice (In-District) (TRV K-12 Staff Only)
Characteristics of Effective Instruction: Teaching for Learner Differences--Lower Elementary (Area-wide) (Cohort II)
Program-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (Ages 3-5) (In-District) (Webster County Empowerment Only)
Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Area-wide) (Pocahontas Location)
Technology Integration and Instruction for the 21st Century Learner: Classroom Implementation (Area-wide) (Online: 12/1/2010 through 5/1/2011)
Using Assessments for Communicating, Planning, and Monitoring Student Learning (In-District) (Moodle Consortium Only)

Code - Skip this item.

Use Seating Limit? - Set this limit to "Yes." Tip: By enabling this function, you will be able to view number of registrations for this course anytime through the online catalog.

Total Seats - Enter an number that represents the upper most limit allowed for number of participants in this course.  Tip: In-district learning teams, and sometimes classes, usually have a larger number. Generally, summer classes have 20-40 as the upper limit. The Avatar system will prevent more participants from registering for this course based on this cut-off number.

Minimum Attendees - Generally, all classes with paid instructors have a minimum of 10, or 20 if there are co-teachers for the course. For learning teams, this number is determined by the district. On rare occasion, this number is less than 10. This number is used by the Avatar system to determine if a course has low enrollment. If enrollment is less than this number, then the class or learning team is usually cancelled unless instructors are willing to teach a smaller group of participants or take less honorarium.

Participants Register? - The default setting should be "Yes" so participants can register for themselves online.

Autoregister? - Skip this item.

Has Sub-Events? - Skip this item.

Sub-Event Of - Skip this item.

Allow Audit? - Skip this item. The default setting should be "No."

Default Facility - Select "Other." Very seldom will other locations be selected from this drop menu.

Location - Specifically define the location for the class or learning team sessions. Provide a street address to assist  participants for locating the sessions.

Groups - Skip this item. The default setting should be "All Students."

Credits - The credits should already appear since you entered them at the course level already. It is important not to change them so they stay congruent with those listed at the course level.

Contact Information: Facilitator/Presenter - Select one or more instructors from the list of names, then click the Add to Selected Button. If a name does not appear in the instructor list, contact the Professional Development Office to request they be added. Tip: All instructors must have a master's degree or higher when teaching a credited course. Workshops do not require a mastered teacher.

Internal Comments - Comments in this box do not display publicly. This is used for internal communication between the course developer and the Professional Development Office. Tip: If your syllabus is returned to you for more information, look in this box for additional details about what needs to be done before resubmitting the syllabus for approval and publishing.

Catalog Notes - The information in this box only displays in the online catalog and not on the syllabus. Generally, this is used for very specific information about a particular class or learning team. Use of this item is optional.

Send Email with Link to Survey - Skip this section. This is for Professional Development Office use only.

Save Button- Click the Save Button before advancing to the next tab.

CLASS LEVEL:  Registraton Tab

Skip this entire section. It is for Professional Development office use only.

CLASS LEVEL:  Discounts Tab

Many discounts are automatically embedded into the existing fees. Contact the Professional Development Office before using a discount code. Only in special situations will these codes apply. Otherwise, skip this section.

CLASS LEVEL:  Prereqs Tab

Skip this entire section. It is for Professional Development office use only.

CLASS LEVEL:  Meetings Tab

All dates and times must be entered here. Follow screen examples and prompts to enter information, and click the Save As New button for each date and time entered. A list of all dates and times will display at the bottom of the screen.  Tip: Classes need to be submitted two weeks prior to the start date, and learning teams need to be submitted within 30 days of the start date to be eligible for credit.

CLASS LEVEL:  Edit Roster Tab

Skip this entire section. It is for Professional Development office use only.

CLASS LEVEL:  Catalog Preview Tab

Click on the Catalog Preview tab to view what the course information will look like in the online catalog. A short version of the syllabus is available for viewing, saving, and printing. By clicking on the Details tab you will be able to view contact and facilitator information, the uploaded rubric, as well as other information.

CLASS LEVEL:  Assignments Tab

This function is optional, but particularly useful for sending out automated notices with assignments and their corresponding due dates. If key assignments are known, they can be set up in advance so participants receive e-mail messages to remind them of pending work and provide access to assignment content online.

CLASS LEVEL:  Evaluations Tab

This function is optional.  Prior to using this function, contact the Professional Development Office.

CLASS LEVEL:  History Tab

Skip this entire section. It is for Professional Development office use only.

COURSE LEVEL:  History Tab

  • History Section - Skip this entire section. It is for Professional Development office use only.


Using the Workflow System

Once the syllabus is complete, it is necessary to submit it by clicking on Workflow System (found in the menu at the left). Click on Process Workflow to display the title of your course. If there are any last-minute changes, they must be done prior to submitting the syllabus. Click on the Syllabus Approval Request button. An automated message will be sent to the Professional Development Office notifying them of a pending syllabus approval. Within a week your syllabus should be processed, unless there is missing information.

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