Planning Your Course: A Decision Guide

1. Where are you? Size up the situation.

  • What kind of students enroll in this course? (number, prior knowledge and experience, motivation, etc.)
  • What role does this course play in the overall educational experience of the students who take it? (GE, elective, required, majors-only, lower or upper division, prerequisite for other classes, etc.)
  • In what kind of curriculum is this course embedded? (How does it relate to other courses? What courses does it build on? What courses follow it?)
  • What external professional standards need to be met?
  • What kind of learning space will you have? (classroom, lab, virtual)

2. Identify 3-5 general goals for the course.

  • What do you want students to be able to DO, once the course is over?
  • What would students have to KNOW in order to do the items listed in question above?

3. Assessment of Learning:

  • How would you know if the students achieved these goals?
  • How can you assess Students’ learning/achievement?

4. Determine how you will assess student learning and achievement.

  • FOR EACH GOAL specified above, what information can you gather that shows how well the goal was achieved for each student individually? For the class as a whole?
  • For which goals are multiple-choice exams sufficient? Essay exams? Project assignments? Writing assignments? Other “products” or valid evidence of learning outcomes sought?

5. Determine the specific learning activities for the course. What are the students going to do?

  • FOR EACH GOAL listed in #2, what learning activities will generate the kind of learning you envision?
  • Is “hearing” sufficient? Or “reading”? Or “doing”? Or does the learning goal require some combination of activities?

6. Choose appropriate teaching strategies to achieve your goals:

  • How can you help your students achieve the goals you have set?
  • What general structure of learning activities will best assist the students in achieving the goals you have established?

Example strategies:

  1. Continuous series of lectures and reading assignments, periodically interrupted by 1 or 2 mid terms. (“hear – read – test”)
  2. Sequence of reading, reflective writing, and whole class discussion (sequence repeated for each topic). (“read – write – talk”) (A variation is “read – talk – write”)
  3. Start with lab or fieldwork observations, followed by readings, and whole class discussions. (“do/look – read – talk”) (Write-ups of lab/field work are sometimes included)
  4. Present lectures, followed by fieldwork or lab observations. (“hear – see/do”)
  5. Students do assigned readings, followed by mini-tests done individually and/or in small groups; then move on to group-based application projects. (“read-individual/group tests – DO”)
  6. Work through a series of developmental stages: build knowledge and/or skills (3-5 weeks); work on small application projects (3-5 weeks); and then work on larger, more complex projects (3-5 weeks). (“know/know-how – do – DO”)
  7. Contract for a grade: (for example; read text and pass exams = C, + do research paper = B, + extended project = A).
  8. Other?

7. Develop a sequence of activities, a week-by-week schedule for the whole term. When are you going to do what?

  • What activities need to come first?
  • What activities do you want to conclude with?
  • What activities do you need in the middle?

8. Identify Resources: Who/What can help?

  • What resources do you need (and can you get) to support each of the goals listed in #2?
  • people, places, and things, including media

9. How are you going to grade? Develop your grading system.

  • Your system should reflect the full range of learning goals and activities. (Remember, NOT everything has to be graded.)
  • The relative weight of each item on the course grade should reflect the relative importance of that activity.

10. De-bugging the design: What could go wrong? Analyze and assess this “first draft” of the course.

  • What kinds of situations might arise as you implement this course?
  • Will students be motivated to do the work? What if they’re not?
  • Does the design encourage student involvement?
  • Will students get sufficient feedback on their performance?
  • How can you prevent (or at least minimize) problems?
  • Make the necessary modifications in the design.

11. Plan an evaluation of the course itself and your own teaching performance.

  • How will you know how the course is going? How it went?
  • What kinds of mid-term and end-of-term feedback will you need?
  • What specific questions about the course do you have?
  • How effective are the particular learning activities?
  • To what degree are the goals for the course achieved? etc.
  • What sources of information can help you answer these questions? audio/videotape, student feedback and interviews, questionnaires, peer observers, quality circles?

 12. Write the syllabus.

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