Course planning

A systematic course planning process can help make your teaching more fulfilling and less time-consuming. There are a variety of methods used by different faculty to plan courses, but the best start by the faculty answering the following question: “What should my students be able to do when they have completed the course?”

We recommend a course design tutorial to help walk through the planning process. The tutorial linked here is designed for self-use, but contact CIT if you would like to talk through it with someone.

The design process in a nutshell:

1. As background for setting your student learning goals and designing your course, consider your students and their needs, as well as where your course “fits” in the overall scheme of your department or program.

  • What are your students like? what is their typical background knowledge? where are they typically going after your course? what are their interests?
  • Where does your course fit in your department or major? is your course a prerequisite for other courses, and what are their needs? who else in your department teaches your course in other semesters?
  • Is your course part of a larger student program? what student graduation requirements does it fill?

2. Within that context, think about what you would like your students to be able to do when they complete your course. These will be your student learning outcomes (or goals).

  • How can you define the course goals from the student perspective, vs. the teacher perspective? What significant actions should students be able to take on their own in the future, as a result of taking your course?
  • What do professionals in your field do, and to what degree can you help your students learn authentically when designing activities? What does it mean to be a geologist, a chemist, a writer, an educator, a statistician, an art historian?
  • What knowledge, skills and attitudes would you like your students to have when they complete your course (and also, what do they needto have, to proceed to upper-level courses or to complete their major?)
  • Since your goals are written such that students should be able to do certain things, you need to affirm that they can do these things, before they leave your course.
  • Your assessments should allow you to determine whether or not they can do these things.
  • Your course assignments should provide students with relevant practice and samples of the things you will later grade them on; grades and feedback on these will help you determine if students are “getting it” as you go along, and you can adjust as needed to go into more depth if necessary.
  • Your content “covered” and activities in class should be honed and directed to support student learning toward the goals you have set.
  • Technologies available at Duke and on the web can help students interact with you, each other and people “out there” around the world, self-test and practice, locate resources and research they need, and track their progress. Technologies can help you manage your course and track student progress, provide timely feedback to students, and conduct engaging and goal-focused class activities.

3. Once you have your list of student learning outcomes or goals, you design your course so that your students will be able to reach those goals.

4. Finally, student feedback throughout the course, as well as end-of-term evaluations, provides information which you use to adjust the course for the next time you teach it. This feedback cycle allows continual improvement in the course, as well as adjustment of learning outcomes as needed to accommodate new circumstances.

Examples of alignment between student learning outcomes and course assessments:

Student learning goal: Students will be able to prepare a scientifically sound argument on a local environmental issue to present at a town forum or in a town newspaper.

Possible practice activities/homework (after reading or learning the relevant scientific content): analyze local publication environment to determine best venues for discussion of environmental topics depending on goal; choose a publication and draft a relevant article for publication, to be reviewed by instructor and/or peers.

Assessment: publication of article in chosen publication (or, if this is not feasible, publication in simulated venue such as public course blog).



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