Course Design

Course Design

We are happy to meet with faculty who are interested in building a new course, revising an existing course, or want to discuss ways to integrate new technology into their teaching practice. We are also available to help faculty work through related issues, such as:

  • preparing a syllabus
  • aligning assignment objectives to course objectives
  • methods for assessing student learning
  • collecting and using student feedback throughout the semester
  • increasing student engagement

Course design support and other consultation services can be tailored to your needs, whether they are met in a single session or over the course of a semester or academic year. Contact Martin Springborg to set up an initial consultation, during which we will go over your needs and course objectives.

The following resources are for faculty teaching online. They provide an introduction to evidence-based effective practices from current higher education and educational development literature.

Ten Essential Principles and Practices

When you teach in person, you don’t leave students to their own devices. You’re with them, engaging in any number of teacherly activities: explaining, guiding, asking, illustrating, answering questions.

Written content is inevitably part of any online course, but strive to use a unique voice in your writing. Mini-lectures, assignment instructions, answers to questions, weekly announcements — you can write those in such a way as to represent your true self.

Whether by audio or video, capture your expertise, your empathy, your teacher persona in a way that comes across with much more impact than in writing. These recordings don’t have to be professionally produced, and you don’t have to have a video in every module. Instead, start small. For example, record a quick introduction and greeting to include in the “Start Here”” module of your course.

Ask experienced online-faculty members or campus instructional designers to go in and poke around as if they were students. You’ll be surprised at what they might see that you can’t — a confusing organization of course materials, an overly intimidating tone in textual instructions, a lack of clarity on what to do first to get started with the course. Use their observations to help you make a few tweaks.

Compare the organization and support services of your in-person courses with what you provide in your online teaching. In both contexts, there should be a method to your madness that is not hidden from students. The design and sequence of content and learning activities in both realms should be methodical, systematic, and purposeful.

You don’t have to be a graphic designer to enhance course appearance. A little attention to presentation goes a long way. Do you have a lot of written lecture notes or instructions? Break up long chunks of text with subheads and space between paragraphs. Embed relevant images. Include thumbnail videos that you’ve either created or sourced from YouTube, news sites, or library resources. Aim for attractive yet appropriate.

  • Write down the directions as if you were having a conversation with a student, so they don’t read like a textbook.
  • Create an informal two-minute explainer video to flesh out some details of an assignment.
  • Provide a rubric.
  • Share an example of student work that earned top marks. Maybe even share an example of mediocre work so students can compare the two.
  • Scrutinize your assessments, both large and small. Have your students had the opportunity to build — step by step, as they would in an in-person classroom — the knowledge and skills they will need do well on those assessments?
  • Look for ways to break down complex tasks so that students make timely progress and receive feedback on their work while there is still time to adjust their approach if needed.
  • How many examples should you provide? Lots of them, wherever possible. You may want to make some examples optional or supplemental, for students who want more help.
  • In addition to sharing explanations of concepts, give as many examples of previous students’ work as appropriate. Show their full work or just pieces. For a persuasive essay, you can show examples of effective introductions; for a complex clinical process, provide work showing only the first step.
  • Use plenty of visuals, media, interactive tools, and learning activities.
  • Streamline course organization and navigation. Organize the furniture in the room, so to speak, to create maximum flow.
  • Convey positivity and optimism that students can succeed.
  • Demonstrate compassion and caring for your busy online learners.
  • Respect their time and engagement by being present and engaged yourself.
  • Participate in workshops offered by your institution’s teaching-and-learning center.
  • Join book-discussion groups with your colleagues to delve into books about effective online-teaching strategies.
  • Subscribe to teaching-related newsletters, such as Faculty Focus and The Chronicle’s Teaching Newsletter. Sometimes they feature articles specifically related to online teaching; other times, reading about a new approach in the physical classroom leads to an idea for your online teaching.
  • Explore best practices presented in the Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository.

Elements for successful online and blended learning

  • Learner-centered: Making students active participants in the learning process
  • Collaborative and interactive learning: Things like open discussions and small group assignments
  • Metacognitive awareness: Student understanding of how they learn most effectively
  • Increased flexibility: Students self-monitoring and pacing through a course in order to spend more time on topics they find difficult
  • Immediate feedback: Responding to students in a timely manner, making quizzes auto grade whenever possible, using things like badges and intelligent agents to reward and motivate
  • Multimodal contact: Using multimedia, such as video, podcasts, voice recording, etc. to deliver content

How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive

This resource provides answers to common questions about inclusive teaching, details three key principles of the practice, and offers practical suggestions for course design or redesign.

  • Design courses in which you speak less.
  • Give lots of low-stakes quizzes and assessments.
  • Incorporate TTQs — typical test questions.
  • Assess them before and after class, not just during.
  • Reduce the stakes of major papers and tests.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Connect with students through course content.

What Works Well in Online Teaching

“What Works Well in Online Teaching” was developed by members of the Minnesota State Faculty Development Committee (a statewide standing committee of the Academic Affairs Council) to promote reflection and dialogue about effective online teaching practices. This resource provides:

  • A description of effective practices specific to instruction delivered online
  • Guidance for new and experienced online or hybrid/blended instructors
  • An opportunity for reflection and dialogue about online teaching
  • An opportunity to align online courses or course components with shared standards of best practice and instructional design principles

Use a Checklist

Feel like you need a checklist? We’ve included the most common online course prep tasks in a pre-semester checklist, complete with links to tutorials and further resources. You’re welcome!