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MDC's Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning: Course Design

Great Beginnings

Elements of Teaching

  • Course design
  • Syllabus design
  • Active learning strategies
  • Teaching with technology
  • Lecturing
  • Diversity in the classroom
  • Grading & Feedback
  • Early feedback
  • Leading discussions
  • Professional Conduct
  • Teaching Portfolios

First and last 8 minutes

“The eight minutes that matter most are the beginning and endings. If a lesson does not start off strong by activating prior knowledge, creating anticipation, or establishing goals, student interest wanes, and you have to do some heavy lifting to get them back. If it fails to check for understanding, you will never know if the lesson’s goal was attained.”

Educator Brian Sztabnik on Student Engagement in Edutopia

Syllabus Design

Creating Your Syllabus: Your syllabus is about more than simply providing your students with the “facts” of the course – the policies, rules, expectations, evaluation criteria and assignment overviews. It is one of your first spots of interaction with your students and is an important site where you can promote habits of mind and an approach to learning that you feel will be most beneficial to students in your class. Treat it as an opportunity to set the tone and the stage for the work you’ll be doing during the rest of the semester.

The following resources will provide advice and information to help you create a well-organized syllabus.

Course Design

Your efforts to put together a course should result in an organized, coherent, and academically responsible course. Keep in mind that course and syllabus design are iterative processes—you will revise and improve your course as you gain experience with the content and with the students who take the course.
Access an onlne Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial, a practical, effective strategy for designing or redesigning a course. 

As stated in Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses, a successfully aligned course focuses on student needs and situational factors through integrated learning outcomes, learning assessments, and learning activities.

A successful course design contains several important features. Begin designing your course by creating significant learning outcomes that focus on the students—their situations and needs. Next, design engaging learning activities that give students opportunities to interact with you, with each other, and with the content in meaningful ways that help them achieve the learning outcomes.  After that, prepare informative learning assessments that will gauge how well students attain the learning outcomes. Finally, be sure all the components are integrated with one another (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Adapted from Fink, L.D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences, Jossey-Bass.


Significant Learning Outcomes

Effective learning outcomes are clearly defined with precise action verbs that specify what students will be able to DO as a result of their learning experience. The learning-outcome verbs describe the performance of the students in their learning activities and their assessments. To be most effective, learning outcomes must be specific and measurable. Many use the format "Students will be able to [action verb] + [something]." See Developing Learning Outcomes for examples.

Engaging Learning Activities

Engaging students in meaningful learning activities will lead them to master the concepts and skills defined in the course learning outcomes. Such learning activities prepare students for subsequent assessments. The learning activities should be interactive and provide students with opportunities to deepen their understanding. Explicitly teach students how each learning activity relates to a specific learning outcome to help them understand the rationale for the activity.

Informative Learning Assessments

Assessments are not likely to provide meaningful feedback about student learning if course activities have not prepared students for the type of assessment given. The best assessments mirror the learning activities students have participated in throughout the course. Effective assessments provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate and further develop their knowledge and skills. In addition, informative assessments provide instructors with valuable feedback to improve and align each component of the course (see Aligning Instruction with Assessments).

Reflection/ Continuous Improvement

Course improvement occurs when you continually look for ways to cultivate teaching and learning. This process makes course design cyclical in nature. Continually evaluate your course learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessments so you can make changes that will improve them. Review your teaching and learning activities to determine their impact. As needed, take steps to make modifications and evaluate the results.


Teaching Resources

STLCC Library Guides: