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?

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.

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.

Some faculty prefer to use icebreakers for the students to get to know each other and feel more comfortable with the classroom environment. These sites offer suggestions for icebreakers, as well as thoughts on how to improve student engagment during early weeks of the semester.

Ideas for linking first day to last day:

Letter to the future: Dakin Burdick from Endicott College recommends this one. At the beginning of the course, have students think about and list the skills they want to develop or strengthen during your course. You may want to use these during the semester to link your activities and content, if feasible, to student goals. On the last day, hand these lists back to students and discuss whether they’ve been able to reach their goals.
Pre-test, Post-test: If you assess student knowledge (or skills or values) at the beginning of your course, use the same assessment again on the last day. Students will gain awareness of how far they’ve come over the semester, and you can identify areas you might want to address differently next time you teach the course. You can also use this data to document your teaching effectiveness in your year-end report – you need not rely solely on IDEA feedback.

The wrap-up: Ideas for the last day of class

Letters to future students:

Have students each write a letter to a fictional student enrolled in your class next semester. Have them describe what to expect, what they will learn, and how they can get the most out of your class. Have them identify something that they got out of your class they were not expecting, and provide advice and encouragement. Students can discuss their letters in pairs and/or read out loud.

Portfolios: If students have been keeping a portfolio in your course, have them select two pieces of work that demonstrate personal growth over the semester and share with the class. If possible, discuss how the examples relate to your course objectives.
Two most important things: Have them write down (on a piece of paper you can collect) the two most important things they’ve learned in your course, whether a new skill, some new knowledge or how to use a resource. Have each member share at least one thing. I have used this successfully (with classes of 20-25); I also collect the papers and summarize what students get out of the class on my syllabus for the next semester.
Create a ritual for your course: Think about something creative that fits your course content and size – a set of awards, a gratitude exercise, or having students create “toasts” to honor ideas, theories, historical figures, etc., drawn from your course materials and topics.
Modeling life-long learning: Describe for your students what you have learned from them over the semester. It might relate to the success or failure of a new teaching strategy you tried out, or a new angle on the subject matter provided by students’ questions and interests. Explain how you’ll use this new knowledge when you teach the class next semester.
Letter to the future: Dakin Burdick from Endicott College recommends this one. At the beginning of the course, have students think about and list the skills they want to develop or strengthen during your course. You may want to use these during the semester to link your activities and content, if feasible, to student goals. On the last day, hand these lists back to students and discuss whether they’ve been able to reach their goals.
Pre-test, Post-test: If you assess student knowledge (or skills or values) at the beginning of your course, use the same assessment again on the last day. Students will gain awareness of how far they’ve come over the semester, and you can identify areas you might want to address differently next time you teach the course. You can also use this data to document your teaching effectiveness in your year-end report – you need not rely solely on IDEA feedback.