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Eastern Region Colleges ABC Institute



Whether developing a new course or revising an existing course, the goal will be to develop a course that helps learners to be successful and that is

  • aligned with other courses in the program of study to help student achieve the program level learning outcomes;
  • coherent so that there is a "match" of "fit" between the course learning outcomes, learning activities, learning resources, assessment and learner abilities and interests; and
  • sequenced so that learners build on previous experiences and move to broader, deeper or more complex understandings and applications.

Course development and revision is a creative process. It allows the developer to make a range of different design decisions. Some factors that influence the design are structural. These are the "givens" in any situation over which we have little control. They can include things such as

  • Guidelines from government and funding agencies e.g. program standards
  • College policies and guidelines related to curriculum and instruction e.g. semester length, course outline policies etc.
  • Available technology and resources
  • Expectations of professional associations, licensing bodies and other stakeholder group

A word of caution-- there are often innovative ways to work around these variables; they need not block our creativity.


Basic Course Design Principles

Whether working with students in face-to-face situations, online or at a distance, we strive to design a curriculum that provides effective learning experiences and opportunities for all to succeed.

There is evidence in the educational literature to suggest that following basic curriculum planning guidelines will help to achieve this goal.

Gordon Cawelt (1990) of The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) suggests these principles to guide course planning.

  1. Offer a core of learning in each course that balances information/skill acquisition, processing and sense-making, application and practice.
  2. Adopt a belief that in-depth study of a limited number of important topics will have a more lasting effect than a course that tries to cover many disconnected bits and pieces.
  3. Design course outcomes to focus on results, with multiple assessments of performance.
  4. Design authentic assessments (assessments that resemble performances expected in the "real world") that will encourage originality, thoughtfulness and problem solving along with mastery of important information.
  5. Design courses to ensure active involvement.
  6. Get students "doing" early in the course rather than studying all the principles and "basics" prior to performing.

Course Learning Outcomes

The expected learning for the course (course learning outcomes) is derived from "designing back" from the expected learning for the program (program learning outcome). The course outcomes contribute to the achievement of the program outcomes. Collectively, the course learning outcomes from all the courses in the program lead to the achievement of the program learning outcomes. When planning or revising a course it is important to know how this course will work with the other courses in the program to help learners achieve the program learning outcomes. Curriculum maps are often used to help situate a course within the broader program of study.

Course learning outcomes provide the anchor for course design. Assessment is linked directly to the course learning outcomes. In the assessment activities, learners demonstrate their achievement of the course learning outcomes. Similarly, learning activities are aligned with the course outcomes. Learning activities are designed and organized to help learners achieve the course learning outcomes.

What are course learning outcomes?

The course learning outcomes describe clearly what learners will know and be able to do at the end of the course. They are performance–based and results oriented. They describe learning that is significant and related to what learners will be expected to do in the "real world" ––– learning that "really matters in the long run". Course learning outcomes describe what the learners will be able to do at the end of the course—when they have integrated learning from the whole course. Each course learning outcome should align with one or more of the program learning outcomes.

Some Questions to Consider when Reviewing Course Learning Outcomes

Here are some questions to think about when developing or reviewing course learning outcomes.

  • Are you aware of the program outcomes and how this course contributes to them?
  • Do the learning outcomes identified for this course align with the expected learning in other courses in the program of study?
  • Are the course learning outcomes clearly stated?
  • Are the course learning outcomes clearly aligned to program outcomes? (eg: post secondary: vocational standards, essential employability skills, apprenticeship: apprenticeship standards). This is dependent upon the type of program in which you teach.
  • Is the performance described in the outcome significant? Will it really matter in the long run?
  • Can you envision how the learners will demonstrate their achievement of these learning outcomes?
  • Will these course learning outcomes guide the development of learning activities and the selection of concepts and skills to be learned?

Assessing the Achievements of Learning

All of us who teach know that assessment practices drive learning. The first thing that students do when they are introduced to a syllabus or course outline is look to see how they will be assessed-- how they will earn credit or grades in the course. In addition, research tells us that feedback has a powerful influence on learning. As curriculum developers it is important that the assessment processes that we put into place support the learning process.

It is also important that assessment aligns with learning outcomes. In an outcomes-based learning environment the focus is on helping a variety of learners achieve learning outcomes. By definition, learning outcomes are performance-based. Learners must go beyond knowing to being able to show what they know. In short, well planned assessments allow learners to demonstrate that they have achieved the learning outcome(s) or provide feedback that identifies the progress they are making towards their achievement. There may be several ways to assess student learning but they should all be linked directly to the learning outcomes.

Performance Assessment/Authentic Assessment

James Foran et al (1992) in their text Effective Curriculum Planning: Performances, Outcomes and Standards offer guidelines for planning performance assessments. This list is adapted from their work.

* Assessments should align directly with learning outcomes.

* Assessments should require students to use their knowledge base, think critically and solve problems and emphasize knowledge construction, troubleshooting, elaboration and evaluation.

* Assessments should reflect/relate to students' interests.

* Just as all students learn differently, students may be able to demonstrate their learning differently as well.

* Criteria should be provided for student self-evaluation.

* Performances should be leveled

* During course—applied exercises for monitoring development

* End of unit of learning/course—demonstration of achievement of course learning outcome

* End of program—demonstration of program level learning outcomes

* The student should be allowed sufficient practice for each performance.

* Where possible performances should be linked to "real world" experiences.

* Assessments must allow students to exhibit their abilities.

Here is a checklist that can be used to help develop performance assessments.

A Checklist for Choosing Performance Tasks:

1. Does the task match the expected learning (learning outcome or course learning requirement)?

2. Does the task adequately represent and elicit the content and skills you expect the student to attain?

3. Does the task enable students to demonstrate their capabilities and progress?

4. Does the assessment use "authentic", real world tasks?

5. Does the task require the learner to integrate their learning?

6. Can the task be structured to provide a measure of several outcomes?

7. Does the task match an important outcome which reflects complex thinking skills?

8. Does the task pose an enduring problem type-- the type the learner is likely to encounter in the future?

9. Is the task fair and free of bias?

10. Will the task be seen as meaningful by important stakeholders?

11. Will the task be meaningful and engaging to students so that they will be motivated to show their capabilities?

Assessment Tools and Strategies

The research is clear. Providing students with constructive feedback contributes positively to learning.


Building Learning Activities

Active Learning Strategies (general)

In their book, "The Case for Constructivist Classrooms", Brooks & Brooks (1993) provide a view of "constructivist" classrooms. They identify 12 ways that constructivist teachers build learning experiences for students. Constructivist teachers...

* encourage and accept student autonomy and initiative.

* use raw data and primary sources, along with manipulative, interactive and physical materials.

* use cognitive terminology such as "classify", "analyze", "predict", and "create" when framing tasks.

* allow student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content.

* inquire about students' understandings of concepts before sharing their own understandings of these concepts.

* encourage students to engage in dialogue, both with the teacher and with one another.

* encourage student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and encouraging students to ask questions of each other.

* seek elaboration of student's initial responses.

* engage students in experiences that might engender contradictions to their initial hypotheses and then encourage discussion.

* allow wait time after posing questions.

* provide time for students to construct relationships and create metaphors.

* nurture students' natural curiosity through frequent use of the learning cycle model (discovery, concept introduction and concept application).

Questions to consider when reviewing learning activities:

* Will the learning activities, collectively, lead learners to achieve the learning outcomes?

* Are there a variety of activities that allow multiple paths to meet the learning outcomes?

* Are the learning activities individualized to meet the needs and abilities of the learners?

* Do the learning activities engage students and promote active learning?