Course Design & Syllabus

Course design is often not by the textbook, which is usually just a resource. In thinking about course design, consider first what you want students to leave the course knowing, being able to do, etc. that they didn't know or couldn't do before they took the course. What is MOST essential to include? What is the most logical means of developing that essential information, considering student preparation, experience, etc. How will you build in engaging, informative activities that promote learning?

  • Ideas for what promotes student learning from the Center for Instructional Development and Research at the University of Washington.
  • Teaching tips from the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of California Santa Cruz.
  • Creating Significant Learning Experiences by L. Dee Fink, 2003, Jossey-Bass. Available in the Center for Faculty Development Library. The IDEA Center has a short paper by L. Dee Fink on this model of course design: Integrated Course Design IDEA Paper #42 March 2005).

Good course design is fundamental no matter if you are designing a flipped, blended, online or entirely face-to-face course. It's important to make sure that your objectives or learning goals are written in a measurable way from a student perspective; the activities and technologies you select are appropriate for your objectives; and assessments allow you to determine if and how well students are learning what you want them to. These elements - your objectives, activities and assessments - need to work together and should all be aligned.  

Writing/Revising Learning Objectives

As you write new objectives or revise existing objectives consider whether your objectives fall into a cognitive, affective or psychomotor domain. Typically most learning in higher education falls into the cognitive domain.  Bloom's Taxonomy is among the most widely used taxonomies for the cognitive domain of knowedge and a Google search provides any number of resources developed by other universities on ways to write learning objectives for the cognitive domain. Some resources we find especially useful when writing or revising learning objectives include Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching concise guide on using Bloom's taxonomy and this brief tutorial from the University of Colorado.

Relating Learning Objectives to IDEA Objectives

Before the end of the semester you will need to select IDEA objectives on the IDEA Faculty Information Form (FIF). In addition to the recommendations from the IDEA Center on how to select IDEA objectives you should also consider how your learning objectives relate to the IDEA objectives you choose. Think about Bloom’s Taxonomy. The IDEA learning objectives encompass these categories--and more (for instance, team skills and lifelong learning). This image illustrates how the IDEA objectives relate to Bloom’s Taxonomy and which objectives go beyond Bloom’s. 

Universal Design

Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. --National Center on Universal Design for Learning

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning has a wealth of resources on UDL including guidelines and examples and the CAST web site has excellent resources on Universal Design for Learning. 

In June 2014 Faculty Development offered a summer seminar on Building an Inclusive Classroom and course design resources from the seminar are available on the Inclusive Excellence web page.

The syllabus is a key communication tool between you and your students. “Your syllabus is the first learning material students encounter in your course. Because of this it is important to include the tone of your class in addition to its form. In addition to its contractual nature, the syllabus represents your initial attempt to form a relationship with your students, to begin the process of community the class will take. Take advantage of that opportunity. Include a favorite quote or two, especially from sites that may surprise them (like” From: the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington (see here).

There is much good advice and many models available to help you design this important document.

The Center for Teaching Excellence at Iowa State has materials from a "Learning-Centered Syllabi" workshop. This site helps you put student learning at the center of this important document, including a detailed list of what to include.

tutorial from the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota will help you construct a syllabus. Many examples are provided.

The "Teaching Tools and Resources" area of a web site at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (originally prepared by their Teaching & Learning Center) has many suggestions about lots of aspects of the teaching and learning process -- they are arranged by topic so it is easy to browse for ideas. Included are ideas for planning a course, developing a syllabus, motivating students, as well as "101 Things You Can Do the First Three Weeks of Class.”

Note to Faculty: The purpose of a disability statement is to help students feel more comfortable in approaching the disability resources office about their disability and to facilitate arranging accommodations in a timely manner. Please add the disability statement below to your syllabus.

The Disability Resources office has updated the syllabus statement for the 2015-16 academic year. Please be sure to update your syllabi.

Academic accommodations will be provided for qualified students with documented disabilities including but not limited to mental health diagnoses, learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder, chronic medical conditions, visual, mobility, and hearing disabilities. Students are invited to contact the Disability Resources office about accommodations early in the semester. Appointments can be made by calling 651-962-6315 or in person in Murray Herrick, room 110. For further information, you can locate the Disability Resources office on the web at

--Updated 08/17/2015

Choosing IDEA Objectives

The selection of objectives on the Faculty Information Form is a crucial activity for two reasons. First, the IDEA System evaluates teaching by assessing student progress on these unique, instructor-chosen objectives. Second, objectives provide guidance for selecting teaching methods; those that promote progress on one type of objective may differ from those that promote progress on other types. Differential objectives make each course a unique learning experience.

Think about Bloom’s Taxonomy. The IDEA learning objectives encompass these categories--and more (for instance, team skills and lifelong learning). In the figure below, you can see how the IDEA objectives relate to Bloom’s Taxonomy and which objectives go beyond Bloom’s.

The paper "Some Thoughts on Selecting IDEA Objectives‌" as well as "IDEA Objectives Adapted for UST Courses" provide useful information on selecting IDEA objectives. Additional information about IDEA is on the Faculty Development IDEA web page.

Relationship of IDEA objectives and Bloom's taxonomy.