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Online Tutorial for Designing Effective and Innovative Courses

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
874

Is it time to really shake the tree and do something about one of your courses? Do you have a great idea for an innovative course but aren't quite sure where to start in designing it? If so, you might try using the following online tutorial designed to provide practical and effective help for faculty members interested in designing or redesigning a course.

Folks:

The posting below describes an innovative approach that can help all faculty with new course development. It is by Barbara Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary).

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

 

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Online Tutorial for Designing Effective and Innovative Courses

 

Is it time to really shake the tree and do something about one of your courses? Do you have a great idea for an innovative course but aren't quite sure where to start in designing it? If so, you might try using the following online tutorial designed to provide practical and effective help for faculty members interested in designing or redesigning a course:

http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/coursedesign/tutorial/index.html

This tutorial is an on-line version of a face-to-face course design workshop developed and taught to literally hundreds of undergraduate faculty in a variety of disciplines for over 12 years by Barbara Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary). While the workshop was originally designed for geoscience faculty, the tutorial provides examples from other disciplines, including those of you outside the sciences, and offers an easy-to-apply strategy for designing courses in any discipline. This tutorial is designed to give you a way to get your arms around what is typically a daunting task and will guide you through a practical, effective strategy for designing or redesigning an effective and innovative course.

Overall philosophy

We believe that a course should do more than provide students with a strong background of knowledge in a field. We believe that a course should enable students to use their strong backgrounds to solve problems, and that a truly valuable course should focus beyond the final exam to add to students' future lives, abilities and skill sets and prepare students to think for themselves in the discipline after the course is over. Designing such a course is a challenge and involves providing not only opportunities for students to master content but also opportunities for students to practice thinking for themselves in the discipline so that they will be prepared to do so after the course is over.

Why use our tutorial?

This tutorial provides a pathway through what can look like a big, amorphous, overwhelming task and presents a logical way to proceed from the glimmer of a good idea toward a new course while avoiding too much blundering in the dark. Using this tutorial lets you avoid wasting energy on reinventing the wheel. We provide links to hundreds of activities that can be used either directly or indirectly as templates, plus examples of goals and syllabi that can be used as catalysts for your own work and that were developed by other faculty.

We know that the design strategy in this tutorial works. Workshop participants comment that our course design process helped them to develop rigorous, effective, and innovative courses and to make thoughtful choices about what and how to teach. In a follow-up survey of workshop participants, 90% of respondents followed through to teach the rigorous, goals-based, innovative course that they had begun to develop at the workshop. Furthermore, 80% of respondents found our course design process so useful that they followed it again when designing or redesigning another course.

Who is this tutorial for?

Most of the examples in this tutorial come from undergraduate courses in the geosciences, although some portions have links to examples from undergraduate courses in other disciplines. Despite the focus on geoscience, the process is generic, and we've used simple examples. If you are interested in designing a course outside the geosciences, you should have little trouble using the tutorial.

The tutorial itself

Course context. Teaching a course involves making choices about what an instructor will ask students to do and why. External factors such as course size, context, student demography, and support structure are significant and should influence the choices that need to be made during course design. We begin the tutorial by having you articulate who your students are, what they need during the course, and what they might need in the future.

Setting overarching goals. The heart of the tutorial involves having you set student-focused goals that enable your students, at an appropriate level, to think for themselves in the discipline, not just expose them to what professionals know. You will set goals that focus your course on developing students' abilities to think for themselves and solve problems in the discipline while still addressing mastery of content.

Setting ancillary skills goals. Before proceeding to content and course plan, you will set one or two ancillary skills goals for your students (e.g., improving writing, teamwork, oral presentation).

Choosing content to achieve overarching goals. Every field is awash in more than a semester's worth of content, and every one of us faces decisions about what content to include and what content to omit. You will make decisions about content by considering what general content topics could be used to achieve the overarching goals you have set for your students, rather than by making a laundry list of content that students should be exposed to.

Developing a course plan. A course plan includes not only the goals and the content topics, but also the order of content and concepts in each broad content topic, and how students will receive goal-related practice with increasing independence as they encounter content and concepts. You will choose appropriate classroom, assignment, and assessment strategies that both help students learn effectively and allow you to evaluate whether students have met the goals.

For Faculty Developers

We now have a complete description of how we run our course design workshops, including links to all of the materials we use to run our workshops, a detailed schedule, tips for adapting or adopting our workshop format, and suggestions for how to use our course design tutorial with faculty. You can find these materials on line at

http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/coursedesign/tutorial/for_developers.html

This course design tutorial is part of a larger web collection of professional development resources developed for undergraduate geoscience faculty through the NSF-funded program On the Cutting Edge (http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/index.html ).