Course & Syllabus Design

Course & Syllabus Design

Hello and welcome to Course & Syllabus Design:
Planning your course from goals and objectives to outline and schedule – a presentation by
Sloan-C. Think of it as an opportunity! Whether you’re
designing a new course or revising a course, working through the steps in this presentation
will help you improve the quality of your online or blended course. To start your deign process, you will first
want to consider issues of quality. Your university, college, or department may already have defined
quality metrics that you need to take into account. Additionally, you will want to review the
quality rubrics or frameworks developed by various organizations and based on research. Next, you will write out the purpose and goals
for the course. These may already be partially defined by your university via the course
catalog; however, you may have some broad latitude.
In any case, you will want to consider who your students are and what they need as part
of the process. Once you have your course goals, you can start
writing your course-level objectives. These objectives, or statements of what the student
will know or be able to do, should be written as higher-order objectives such as analyze,
synthesize, evaluate, and create. Once you have your higher order course-level
objectives written, you can begin developing objectives for units or modules and individual
lesson. The objectives at this level will help the
students achieve the higher order course-level objectives. Deciding how to organize those objectives
– that is, deciding the structure and sequence of the objectives – is the next step. Your content and pedagogical knowledge will
be extremely important here because it is at this point that you’re starting to determine
how much time things may take. Once you’ve gotten an idea of the structure
and sequence you can begin creating your course schedule. For the record, design is a messy, chaotic
process. It isn’t as linear as I’ve made it seem in these last two slides. You’ll find yourself jumping back and forth
between steps as you try to come up with the “perfect” design. Identifying issues of quality is our first
step. Understanding the elements of a quality course and knowing what a quality course looks
like before you do any other design work gives you significant guidance for your design! Of course, you should definitely find out
what type of quality guidelines your university, college, or department has in place. There may be certain things want included
in every course as part of their quest for quality. Beyond that, you should take a look at the
Sloan-C 5 Pillars of Quality, the Quality Matters Rubric, and Chico’s Rubric for Online
Instruction since these three really cover all the bases! Let’s take a look at some quality indicators
in each rubric or framework to see how they can guide your course design process. First, there’s the Student Satisfaction
criteria in the Sloan-C 5 Pillars framework. In that criteria it states that the goal is
to make sure objectives match student expectations. The best way to do this is to make sure that
your course goals and objectives accurately reflect what the students will be doing. This starts from the moment students read
the course description prior to registering for the course. So, that suggests that you
should be familiar with that course description as you’re designing your course goals and
objectives. Next, we have the Quality Matters Rubric and
its Course Overview and Introduction standard. One of the criteria there is that students
are introduced to the purpose and structure of the course. This can be accomplished in a number of ways
– a description in the syllabus for example – but the key point is to make sure they
are told what to expect. Finally, we have Chico’s Rubric for Online
Instruction. Their Instructional Design and Delivery standard has a criteria that states
that course goals should be clearly defined and aligned with learning objectives. So, of course, you’ll want to pay attention
to that as you’re designing your course. The important point for this step is that
you familiarize yourself with the quality frameworks because their criteria and standards
will guide you toward quality course design. Once you’ve considered quality metrics,
it is time to establish your course goals – the statements of what the course will
do for your students. These goals will help shape the rest of your design so you’ll
want to be precise! To establish your course goals, you need to
identify what the gap is between the current state and the desired state of your students’
knowledge and experience. To understand the current state, you need
to know your students knowledge, skills, and expectations. Additionally, knowing how prior students have
done in the course (if it has been taught before) and what role it plays in your students’
professional futures are all key bits of information about the current state. Other information relevant to current state
includes course description as written in the course catalog and what role the course
plays in any degree or certificate program. The desired state is all about what should
be. In other words, what should your students know or be able to do and what should the
course provide your students so they can be successful, either in follow on courses, the
degree or certificate program, or in their careers. Your course goals should address the gap between
what is and what should be. Typically, course goal statements take the form of “This course
will prepare you to…” Or, “This course will provide you with…” Or even, “In
this course, you will learn about…” You’ve established some course goals and
now it is time for step 3: Defining learning objectives. What is a learning objective? A learning objective
is a statement of what your students will know or be able to do upon completion of the
course. More importantly, it is a statement that describes a behavior that can be measured
and assessed. A fully developed learning objective is statement
that includes the behavior, a condition under which the behavior will take place, and criteria
by which the behavior will be assessed. Of course, in most university courses, faculty
tend toward a more shorthand version of the learning objective that simply states the
behavior to be demonstrated. I personally find it easier to write out a
fully developed learning objective because it helps me with my course design; however,
the shorthand version is acceptable – especially in the early stages of the course and syllabus
design process. Behavior statements come from Bloom’s Taxonomy.
There are three taxonomies – one for the cognitive domain, one for the affective domain,
and one for the psychomotor domain – and they are systems for classifying levels of
learning in each domain. Bloom’s Taxonomy is based on the premise
that there are levels of learning. In the case of the cognitive domain, those levels
begin with remembering and move up through understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating,
and creating. For each level of learning in the taxonomy,
there are verbs that describe learning behaviors for that level. So, for example, at the knowledge/remember
level, students would define, duplicate, list, memorize, recall, repeat, or reproduce some
piece of knowledge. The verbs, not all of which are listed here,
form the basis for the learning objective statement. Please note, the taxonomy is not meant to
suggest that you must start from the bottom in terms of the types of learning objectives
and corresponding learning activities that you design. It is simply meant to indicate that in order
for students to, for example, apply some bit of knowledge, they must first know and understand
that bit of information. You could, for example, do a problem-based
learning design in which students have the objective of creating something and, in the
process of solving the problem to create that something, they discover the facts, develop
the understanding, apply the knowledge, and analyze and evaluate the information. The key thing from a design perspective is
that you become fully aware of how learning builds on itself and how much time it can
take for that to happen. So, how will you define your learning objectives? One method is to start with the course-level
objectives and aim for those higher order learning behaviors like create, evaluate,
and analyze. Then, move on to unit/module/lesson objectives that will be written at the lower
level of Bloom’s taxonomy that, when completed, will help the learner achieve the higher order
objectives. For example, you might have the course-level
objective of ‘create a quality online course’ and then in your units/modules/lessons address
each little aspect of an online course that students will have to know or be able to do
to create an online course, such as ‘identify 3 different quality frameworks,’ ‘explain
the critical elements of an online course,’ ‘analyze the components of an effective
online syllabus’ and so on. Another method, especially if you lean more
toward constructivist pedagogies, is to have your course and unit objectives all be higher
order objectives. For example, you may start with a course level
objective of ‘create a quality online course’ and then move into units where the objectives
address things like ‘create a learner-centered syllabus’ and ‘create learner-centered
activities’ and so on. It isn’t that your students won’t end
up also being able to explain critical elements of an online course, it is just that they’ll
learn those things as they explore how to create the syllabus, activities, and assessments. A special note for those of you who prefer
that second method: you’re still going to have a really good idea of those lower-level
objectives so you’ll be able to assess the products of the student creations appropriately. You’ve identified quality metrics, established
course goals, and defined your objectives. Now it is time create your course outline. In this step, you’re concerned with some
of the big picture course sequence and structure questions like what will your students learn
first and what sorts of learning activities and assessments may help them achieve those
objectives. To make creating your course outline easier,
it is often a good idea to organize your ideas in a table to get down the general scope of
the course. In this example table, we have columns for
learning objectives, possible assessments, possible learning activities, and approximate
amount of time that might be required to achieve the objective. So, for example, you might have a learning
objective of ‘identify 3 quality frameworks for online courses.’ To demonstrate they
can do that, you might have the students take a quiz or write a discussion post, or even
write an essay. To prepare them to do that, you might ask
them to read about the 3 frameworks watch a presentation about them. Then, depending
on which activity and which assessment strategy you choose, you’ll have to decide about
how much time this should take to complete. By listing out your objectives, assessments,
activities, and approximate time, you’re well on your way to a good course outline. Of course, to really get a handle on the whole
sequence and structure of the course for your outline, you will have to take your table
of objectives, activities, and so on one step further. You’re going to have to decide how you will
organize those objectives into weeks or units or whatever your preferred structure happens
to be. Whether you do it by week or by unit, you’ll want to identify which objectives
will be addressed in each. Once you have this basic structure and sequence,
you’re ready to complete your schedule. You’ve identified quality metrics, established
course goals, defined your objectives, and created a course outline. Now it is time to
establish a schedule. In this step, you’ll be decided what gets
taught each day or week by taking into consideration many different factors. As you begin to establish the course schedule,
it is important that you consider the university calendar and your own professional and personal
obligations in addition to the structure and sequence of your course that you set in the
previous step. A good first step is to note on the course
schedule any breaks, holidays, exam periods, and any other university-set calendar events
that could impact your course schedule. Once you’ve done that, note your own personal
and professional obligations on the schedule. These could include conferences, events in
your other courses, and so on. Finally, once you’ve identified those things,
you’re ready to begin plotting out what you will be teaching each day or week of the
course. Other things you should consider as you are
developing your schedule include synchronous and asynchronous work, special events, and
assignment start and due dates. In many online classes, students may be meeting
in the physical classroom as well as online. Or, the course may have both online synchronous
work and asynchronous work. It is important that your schedule note not only dates and
times, but also locations for these things. Additionally, there might be special events
happening at the university or locally that are relevant to your course that you may want
to include. For example, the university may be sponsoring
a guest lecture that pertains to your course. You’ll definitely want to add these things
to your schedule so students have plenty of time to plan the course schedule around their
own personal schedules. Finally, in online courses, assignments are
often assigned in one week but due the next week or several weeks later. You should consider
noting on the schedule when an assignment begins, any milestones relevant to that assignment,
and the due dates. This will really help your students plan and
prepare. You want to avoid putting assignment due dates only, because by the time the student
sees the due date, it will probably be too late to actually work on the assignment. The example schedule on the left is a template
I will often use to help me organize my schedule. I typically like to include dates, objectives,
synchronous events, and assignments in my schedule. The example on the right show the template
in action. I like to use the date column to note any special university deadlines, such
as course withdrawals, holidays, and so on. I also try to be quite clear on the schedule
about days/times/locations of synchronous events and whether an assignment listed is
the start date of the assignment or the due date and whether it is extra credit/optional
or not. The important part is that you create your
schedule in a way that conveys all the information necessary and does so in an organized and
easy to follow fashion. In review, the steps for course design begin
with looking at quality course standards and criteria because this will help guide your
course design. From there you will establish some course
goals that tell your students what the course will do for them. Using your course goals,
you’ll write some learning objectives that tell students what they will be expected to
know or be able to do by the time they complete your course. Once you have the objectives written you can
begin to outline the structure and sequence of your course and put together a schedule. Follow those basic steps and you’ll be on
your way to designing a quality online course. Thank you! May all of your course design endeavors
be successful and may you enjoy the process.

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


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