Developing Your Course
If you are a professional educator, the driving purpose of your teaching is your students’ learning. Teaching Central’s Learning about Teaching segment stresses the importance of learner-centered teaching and that focus continues here with course design resources.
Learning can happen without teaching or courses, and unfortunately teaching does not always produce learning. As an educator, think about starting your course development process with what you want your students to be able to do at the end of the course. Designing your courses with your students’ learning in mind is an outcomes-centered process and ensures a high level of student engagement. Terry Doyle (2008) offers this simple, yet powerful statement, “The one who does the work does the learning.”
Many learner-centered teaching proponents (Bain, Cross, Doyle, Fink, Nilson, Weimer) discuss the following multiple components of teaching: disciplinary course content (knowledge of the subject), course management (organization, assignments, grading), and learning design (outcomes/objectives, assessment, learning activities). They also agree that learning design is an important professional development topic for university educators. Please consider the following resources as a start for your professional development in learning design. The resources are categorized under three subheadings:
Identify your course context
L. Dee Fink (Creating Significant Learning Experiences, 2003) uses the term “situational factors” to categorize all of the components that make up your course context: teaching environment, external expectations, and characteristics of your learners. This first step in your course development should be a careful review that produces a list of all the factors that will affect your key decisions. If you don’t do a thorough review, you will end up with a course that doesn’t work for your students, for you, and/or for your department. Some situational factors that are easily identified are: What is your class size? Have your students completed a prerequisite course before yours? Is your class a prerequisite to other courses? Do you have primarily first-year students? Why are students taking your class?
Explore these resources for multiple ideas about identifying your course context:
Are you teaching a large lecture class?
• The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan offers this resource list for instructors who realize that “eliciting participation, questions, and even attention from a sea of faces in a large lecture hall can be a difficult task. Instructors often seek ways to make large classes feel smaller. The links in this section provide information about classroom management techniques, suggestions for effective lecturing, and a list of additional resources and articles about large classes.” http://www.crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tsllc.php
• University of North Carolina Charlotte through its Center for Teaching and Learning offers “A Survival Handbook for Teaching Large Classes.” “This handbook is a cafeteria of ideas of how faculty members all over the country have tried to solve many of the problems related to teaching large classes. Decide which one or ones are most likely to work for you, and try them.” http://teaching.uncc.edu/articles-books/best-practice-articles/large-classes/handbook-large-classes
• This module on Interactive Lectures from the Science Education Resource Center at Carlton College provides strategies and specific examples of techniques and activities designed to involve students in large and small lecture-based classes. The module is designed for the instructor who does not want to replace lecture, but rather to enhance and punctuate lecture to create an interactive classroom experience while maintaining lecture as the primary content delivery mechanism. http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/interactive/index.html
Are you teaching a recitation section or lab?
The Graduate College at the University of Washington has organized a series of bulletins from the Center for Instructional Development and Research. This series offers advice and strategies from UW faculty to encourage teaching excellence for graduate students. The link below is to the bulletin that specifically targets instruction in recitation sections and labs. http://depts.washington.edu/cidrweb/Bulletin/Sections.html
Are you teaching a course for first-year students?
Tomorrow's Professor is a professional development listserv maintained at Stanford University. Below is a link for Message #859, “Making the First-Year Classroom Conducive to Learning.” The message addresses some important approaches to improve learning for courses populated by first-year students. The main resource for this message is Chapter 14, “Inside the First-Year Classroom - Challenges and Constraints,” by Bette LaSere Erickson and Diane W. Strommer in the book Challenging and supporting the First-Year Student - A Handbook for Improving the First Year of College, by M. Lee Upcraft, John N. Gardner, and Betsy O. Barefoot. http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/cgi-bin/tomprof/posting.php?ID=859
Do you know who your students are?
Carnegie-Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence can get you started thinking about your students not only as intellectual beings, but also as social and emotional beings. Your course development should take into account your students’ prior knowledge, intellectual development, cultural background, and generational experiences and expectations.
Are you teaching adult learners?
“Traditional” university students are generally defined as recent high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24, financially dependent upon their parents and often living away from home for the first time. “Nontraditional students” are considered to be those learners who do not fit this general mold. Adult learners are considered to be the most common group under the umbrella term of “nontraditional students” According to reports from the National Center of Education Statistics (1996), adult learners make up a large and growing portion of students in higher education. For information and resources about adult learners, see the Center’s Teaching and Learning Guide.
T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file108254.pdf
Are you aware of multicultural teaching strategies?
• The University of Wisconsin Whitewater provides information about diversity teaching through its Learn Center, http://www.uww.edu/learn/diversity/dozensuggestions.php
• The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning at the University of Michigan offers a collection of resources about multicultural teaching strategies.
• And remember to use two local resources as well, BGSU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, http://www.bgsu.edu/offices/sa/oma/, and the Center’s Teaching and Learning Guide, Diversity in the Classroom.
T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file84401.pdf
Integrate your course design
After you have determined the context for your course and thought seriously about your situational factors, you are ready to coordinate three essential parts of your course development:
• learning outcomes/objectives, or what you students will be able to do after completing your course
• assessment of the learning outcomes/objectives, so your students will be able to articulate what they are learning and what skills they are developing
• learning activities that students will complete as they work toward their achievement of the learning outcomes.
Important: These three must always work together. In other words, through your course design, you are offering your students a very clear message. Your course will offer your students:
• learning opportunities
“How your students will be ‘different’ at the end of your class?”
• a summary of how your students and you understand the nature and progress of their learning
“How will you and your students use assessment techniques to communicate and assess the learning?”
• work that you design and facilitate your students’ completing to realize the learning opportunities
“What learner-centered work will your students do to develop skills?”
Explore these resources for multiple ideas about integrating your course design:
Sometimes called learning outcomes and sometimes called learning objectives, this important part of your integrated course design describes the learning and the skills that you want your students to develop. Below are two good links for you to investigate if you would like to learn more about writing learning outcomes for your classes. Remember, your learning outcomes are not statements that are reviewed only on the first day of class—they directly guide the learning achievement for the entire semester. The University of Toronto through its Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation offers “Developing Learning Outcomes: A Guide for Faculty at
And see the Center’s Teaching and Learning Guide.
T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file108257.pdf
Assessment of learning outcomes/objectives
Assessment and feedback should be directly aligned with your outcomes because they provide you and your students with evidence about how well your students are learning what you identified in your outcomes. When assessments and objectives are aligned, “good grades” are more likely to translate into “good learning.”
Please Note: Teaching Central has a segment, Generating Assessment and Feedback. Resources can be found at http://www.bgsu.edu/ctl/page115771.html.
Here, Teaching Central offers one fairly comprehensive assessment resource from Carnegie Mellon University.
You have your learning outcomes and your assessment methods, now you need the “vehicles” that allow your students to practice the achievement of their learning. Designing learning activities is the most “tangible” part of your course design and should include reference to your outcomes and a specific description of how students will be assessed. Learning activities are also very personal for educators—you should have a high level of confidence and enthusiasm for the activities that you design. Learning activity design that works for one educator may not be right for another. Below Teaching Central offers some general resources for assignments, tests and quizzes, and group projects.
• This first link is a short article by Mary Ellen Weimer about the importance of assignment design. It is one of many teaching strategy articles to be found at Weimer’s “The Teaching Professor Blog.” http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/shining-a-light-on-your-assignments/
• Mary Ellen Weimer again, this time offering a special report, “Keys to Designing Effective Writing and Research Assignments.” This special report was created to provide instructors with fresh perspectives and proven strategies for designing more effective writing assignments. It features 11 articles from “The Teaching Professor.” http://uogcde.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/report-keys-to-designing-effective-writing.pdf
• Lawrence University offers a webpage full of ideas for alternate assignments that could be alternatives to the research paper. http://www.lawrence.edu/library/instruct/alternatives.shtml#reasons
• Many, if not all, university assignments involve your students know how to research effectively. Students may not have received any instruction and guidance about developing their research process, so offering them a resource that they can refer to may be a valuable part of your assignment design. Please consider using “Fast Track: A student's guide to high-performance research,” http://libguides.bgsu.edu/fast_track.
• In addition to students needing information how to become a high-performance researcher, they also may need topic ideas. The “Topic Tree” is a site that is maintained by Georgia Perimeter College Libraries and offers a selection of timely, diverse, and exciting topics for term papers, projects, and presentations, http://guides.gpc.edu/content.php?pid=18124.
Tests and quizzes
• The Grayson H. Walker Teaching Resource Center at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offers a webpage that compares types of tests and discusses the uses, advantages, disadvantages, and tips for writing test questions in different formats. http://www.utc.edu/Administration/WalkerTeachingResourceCenter/
• The Center for Instructional Design and Research (CIDR) at the University of Washington offers a test design resource webpage “to help you navigate the challenging process of designing effective exam questions that give you reliable indicators of student learning in your course.” http://depts.washington.edu/cidrweb/resources/exams.html
• “My Student Don’t Like Group Work” could be a statement that you might make, but group work that is organized well, tied to the learning outcomes, and substantially assessed can be a valuable tool in the learner-centered classroom. This article is from the “The Teaching Professors Blog” and is included here for its content and for the discussion it provoked. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/my-students-dont-like-group-work/
• For additional information about group work, please see Teaching Central’s Preparing Students to Learn, Preparing them for group membership, http://www.bgsu.edu/ctl/page115769.html, for more resources about designing group projects. Another resource is our Teaching and Learning Guide, Working in Groups.
T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file92509.pdf
Bonus Link: Clemson University’s Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation has a master list of website for instructional use, including discipline-specific categories.
Plan for specific course events/issues
Every semester there are learning events and issues that are inevitable. Thinking about them in advance is your best preparedness method. To that end, you will find resources in this section that discuss syllabus design, first impressions, grading responsibilities, and problems with cheating and civility.
Consider the following:
Jennifer Sinor and Matt Kaplan from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan offer graduate students a comprehensive article about the importance of a well-designed syllabus and recommendations about what to include. According to Sinor and Kaplan, “Research indicates that outstanding instruction and a detailed syllabus are directly related (Grunert, 1997). Students will appreciate and respond positively to a syllabus that bears the marks of being well planned.” http://www.crlt.umich.edu/gsis/P2_1.php
T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file84395.pdf
First impressions: preparing for the first weeks of class
• This resource for “First Class Strategies” from the University of Toronto, Center for Teaching Support & Innovation provides numerous ideas regarding how you can structure your first day. Including what to do before the first class, setting the tone during the first class, and how to conclude the first class there are numerous helpful strategies and approaches available. http://www.teaching.utoronto.ca/topics/strategies/first-class.htm
• The University of Nebraska, Office of Graduate Studies wants faculty and students to get off to a “good start.” Their resource list “is a catalog of suggestions for college teachers who are looking for fresh ways of creating the best possible environment for learning.” This link provides “101 Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class” and access to their other resources. http://www.unl.edu/gradstudies/current/teaching/first-3-weeks
• The IDEA Center is a “nonprofit organization whose mission is to serve colleges and universities committed to improving learning, teaching, and leadership performance.” “IDEA Paper #39: Establishing Rapport: Personal Interaction and Learning” provides a well-structured guide to understanding the importance of developing rapport with students from the first day of class and throughout the semester.
BGSU’s Student Handbook, http://www.bgsu.edu/offices/sa/studentconduct/, addresses academic integrity and specifically cheating (page 25). Here is the definition of cheating.
Cheating: Using or attempting to use unauthorized assistance, materials, information, or study aids in any academic exercise. Submitting substantial portions of the same academic work more than once without permission, or using another person as a substitute to take an examination or quiz.
The BGSU University Libraries offers instructors “Plagiarism: Defining, Detecting, Preventing.” It is designed to, first and foremost, help prevent academically dishonest acts such as plagiarism. Tips on how to verify sources from student research are also suggested, http://www.bgsu.edu/colleges/library/assistance/page41070.html.
Teaching Central has resources about Academic Integrity in the Preparing Students to Learn segment (http://www.bgsu.edu/ctl/page115769.html). Here is a specific link to a BGSU University Libraries LibGuide that addresses cheating and offers additional outside resources.
Problems with Civility and Disruptive Behavior
Instructors at the university level may assume that dealing with disruptive and uncivil behavior is outside their purview, that such civil behavior should have been learned at home and reinforced in elementary and high school. It is unfortunate that some students do not know how to behave in the college setting, and instructors must address these behaviors or risk compromising the learning experience of other students as well as causing stress for themselves. The Office of the Dean of Students at BGSU defines “disruptive behavior” as “behavior a reasonable person would view as being likely to substantially or repeatedly interfere with the conduct of a class.” For information and resources, see the Center’s Teaching and Learning Guide.
T&L Guide: http://www.bgsu.edu/downloads/provost/file108255.pdf