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The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Valerie Lopes, PhD Professor, Centre for Academic Excellence Seneca College and  adapted from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University Online Document Course Design Tip Sheet – available at: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/CourseDesign.html


In preparing to teach a course, it is helpful to first consider:

1. What is the purpose of this course – What is it that the students will be able to know/think/do as a result of taking this course?

What do you hope to teach the students? What is the single most important thing you hope they will leave the course knowing or being able to do? Why are you teaching it? (This is not about what facts you want them to know at the end, but about what your larger or deeper objectives are for the course.) What are the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) Learning outcomes of this course?

2. What are your students’ capacities and expectations and needs?

Who are your students? What do they know already, as they enter the course? How will you know what they know? What levels of sophistication can you expect? How much can you expect them to do? What courses have they taken? How much do they need to know at this level? What prior knowledge is essential in order for students to be successful in this course?

3. What assessments will you use to determine whether or not the students have achieved the learning outcomes?

What will you use as evidence that the students have learned what you intend for them to learn? How will theses assessments guide the teaching and learning activities and resources? How will you use assessments to help students to learn? Do you have formative as well as summative assignments?

Once the answers to the questions above are clearly established, then there are a host of other questions to consider:

  • How will you design the weekly sessions and lessons? How are you going to tie the course together? What is the story line for this course? What are the logical links between sessions? And what are the main topics and sub-topics? How will you enable the students to follow the course’s progression from week to week? Can you create a concept map for the course?
  • How are you going to get to the broader, underlying conceptual issues, as opposed to simply covering the material? Given the underlying purpose or concept or level of the course, what material should be emphasized and what can be cut?
  • What “active” teaching methods are you going to use – e.g., lectures, discussions, role plays, demonstrations – and in what proportions? What activities other than the readings and class discussions might be appropriate? How will you stimulate students to think about the material before class? How will you encourage/require students to prepare? How will you get students to actively engage in reading, listening to lectures or viewing videos that are used to deliver course content? What learning strategies will you use?
  • How will you evaluate your students? How will you know what they do and do not understand? How will you know if they have learned anything, and if so, what they have learned? How will you know which students are A students, which are B, C, and D students? What about students who fail?
  • How will you give feedback to the students? How will you grade and comment on their written and oral work? What opportunities will students have to use feedback to improve their work?
  • How flexible are you going to be in meeting students’ different backgrounds, interests and needs? Are you willing/able to change any aspects of the course in the middle of the semester if that seems appropriate? Are you willing to entertain different approaches to the material?
  • How will you get feedback from the students? How will you know if the course is working for them?

Having answered the questions above – how are you going to let the students know the overall plan for the course, including the class guidelines, suggested readings, assignment requirements and deadlines, tests and final exams dates, weekly schedules and all other pertinent information?

Lots of questions – but once they are all answered – you will be able to tell the story of your course and show how all the pieces are connected.

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