Most instructors use a course syllabus, either in print or online, to communicate college policies to their students. It's also a good idea to use it to communicate your own policies regarding assignments, lateness, absences and the like.
Most important, though, you should use your syllabus to state the learning goals for each course you teach. Chapter 3 of Peter Filene's The Joy of Teaching (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005) is especially helpful on this score (and chapter 4 on syllabus construction is very worthwhile, too). Students at Dartmouth are very skilled at figuring out what the teacher wants; why not be as explicit about this as possible right from the start and try to shift more responsibility onto students to set their own goals and pose their own problems and questions. That is, one worthy goal of any course is to have students take on ever more responsibility for their own learning.
A good place to start is with the DCAL Syllabus Template.
The DCAL director and associate directors have lots of experience helping teachers define learning goals for their courses, new and old.
Last Updated: 9/17/13