How To Design A Course
This article includes tips on designing and building a course.
Allow enough time to carefully plan and revise content for a new course. Careful planning will make teaching easier and more enjoyable. Talk with other teachers who have taught similar content and discuss various strategies as well as student reactions to the material, etc. In the case of team-teaching, meet with your partner to talk about course goals, philosophies of education and methodologies, the general content, class policies, and what each teacher will be responsible for.
This article will help you if you are developing a face to face, an online, a hybrid course or a MOOC.
A simplified concept map for the course design process:
Pinpoint the course goals
What do you want the students to learn and be able to accomplish? With your goals clearly defined, decisions to include certain content, the teaching methods to employ, and the types of assignments and exams to utilize can be more readily determined. To help with curriculum planning primarily in defining goals to maximize student learning (opposed to course content, it is called Backward Design), check out G. Wiggins and J. McTighe’s Understanding by Design (1998). Basically, according to Backward Design, instructors should clearly define what they expect their students to have learned by the end of the course or section.
See also: ADDIE Model
During the process of determining course goals, it is important to think about student learning. Think of what you want students to learn as far as content and both their cognitive and personal development. The goals should be specific and measurable. These questions will help you in defining course goals.
- What skills will be gained?
- What sorts of students will take this course? (grad, undergrad, class size, etc)
- What will your students remember most from their learning and your teaching in the next decade
- What impact will your class have on students’ lives?
- Does this course relate to any others within the same discipline and what influence does this have on this particular course (e.g. what level of class is this: intro, fundamental or more advanced)?
Also, it would be helpful to gather some insights concerning the students who typically take this course (e.g., preparation level, academic interests, and passions, etc.) so you can best help students broaden their knowledge base, skill level, and understanding about the topic at hand.
A helpful framework that categorizes skills that you expect your students to attain through learning is Bloom’s Taxonomy. As the table indicates, Bloom categorized six types of intellectual skills and ordered these from the simplest to the most complex: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These learning processes are linked to related skills and also specific action verbs that you can use to establish course goals, apply teaching methods, design assignments/exams, and question students. (Bloom’s Taxonomy was revised in 2001, and the updated version consists of these ordered skills: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.)
What are the major topics and what order will they be taught?
- Choose main topics. Preview current textbooks and updated literature for a unique course topic. Find out if there is consensus for the necessary topics by reviewing former course syllabi and through ongoing dialog with colleagues. Adjust your list to reflect course goals and student characteristics. Simultaneously, use the content you have selected to fine-tune the course goals.
- Reduce the list of topics accordingly. Most teachers plan more material to teach than they can actually cover within a designated time frame.
- Organize the class structure and the topics to be taught with a clear rationale so the material is most understandable to your students. For example, you can talk to your students and explain the rationale behind how you structured the class, so they can better see how the topics build upon each other and/or how they show or bring differing perspectives. Through this discussion, your students most likely will increase and sustain interest in the content of the course. In addition, through structuring your course, you can better determine which texts would be most appropriate.
There are many ways for you to organize the course topics. Generally, they can be ordered based on the topic, the concept, chronologically, survey-oriented, or process-oriented. It is important to reflect on how the structure of the course impacts student learning. In doing so, these questions may help:
- Can the topics be organized thematically or according to a storyline?
- Do I have to teach targeted skills first and then discuss their application?
- Do I prefer to introduce a specific theory and then apply it with examples or problems?
See also: What is educational technology?
Develop the teaching methods and tools
After the course goals and content are determined, it is time to think about the content and how you will present it. You will need to choose your teaching methods and tools based on the 1) appropriateness for the class size and 2) those that are aligned with the course goals. These suggestions should be considered:
- Reflect on your teaching style. How can you apply and/or adapt it to meet the course goals, class size, and characteristics of your students who plan to take your class?
- What teaching methods best match with the course goals?
- If you plan to use technology in your course, determine what goals will the technology help you reach. Think about how you will infuse technology with the other teaching tools you traditionally employ.
- Use a variety of approaches, when possible, to better match the diverse learning preferences of your students.
- Select and incorporate teaching methods that best align with the course goals.
See also: Flipped teaching?
Decide on the method of evaluating the learning of your students
Organize the assignments and exams. Remember that evaluation must align with the course goals. For example, if a course goal is to sharpen problem-solving skills, then the exam should focus on a question that uses problem-solving, not mainly recalling facts. Similarly, both homework and class activities prior to the exam should involve questions and exercises that deal with problem-solving skills. These suggestions should be considered:
- Look at the assignments to see if they correspond with course goals. For example, check to see that the required papers for the course are the right genre and length. Ensure that you provide enough time for the students to complete the papers.
- Review the exams and quizzes. Do they align with the course goals? Do they also accurately measure the learning objectives you have outlined for the course?
- Will you allow/devise opportunities for students to gain and practice the necessary skills that are required for any of the larger assignments and exams?
Selection of other materials and text(s)
First, determine what materials and text(s) you will use dependent on whether the course goals are met best by a published text or course reader of combined materials either published elsewhere or even consisting of unpublished material. When making a decision, think about the cost factor in obtaining the materials for your students. You might want to place on reserve some of the material for the student to read, borrow, photocopy or even download themselves.
If ordering textbooks, allow enough time prior to the onset of your course. Call the bookstore or publisher approximately one month before the class begins to ensure a prompt arrival time.
Outline the course policies
Decide how to grade the work: papers, assignments, exams, and if appropriate, class participation. Determine how you will deal with issues of student tardiness, attendance, late work, and any extensions/rescheduling of assignments/exams.
Make up the course schedule
As mentioned earlier, the tendency is to try to do too much within a given class period. It is essential to allow time for active learning as well as to block out sufficient work/study time for students to complete major assignments and to prepare for exams.
Prepare the course syllabus
A typical syllabus is comprised of a course title; the time of the course; the location; any prerequisites; the required materials and texts, topics of the course; a list of major assignments and exams; your course policy on grading, attendance, late work, and academic integrity; and preferred contact information for the teacher and any instructional assistants if applicable.
An important point is that you should make sure that your students have easy access to the course syllabus
Tweak the Course Design
Remember that planning a course is a fluid process. The diagram shows this below. Each step is made with the other steps in mind and, likewise, each step will be refined every time you teach the course.
See also: Kirkpatrick Model
In conclusion, as you prepare your courses, be mindful of teaching core concepts and also critical-thinking skills. If you plan for only content, then this can lead to a high concentration of knowledge-based skills to the detriment of building higher-level skills as outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy.