Whether you are building a new course from scratch or revising an existing course, the number of factors to consider can make planning a course can seem like a daunting challenge. Like any complex problem, breaking it into smaller problems is the key to keeping the challenge manageable.
Where to Start
There is no one place to start with planning a course. Many instructors will start with a course syllabus as that is the large formal document that must be available on the first day of class. Others will begin with outlining course goals or learning objectives. Ultimately there are many decisions that must be made well before the first day of class and they will all interconnect with regard to your goals for the class, your syllabus, the assignments, and so on.
Course Goals and Learning Objectives
Establishing your goals for the course is a critical part of the planning process. Your goals will help shape any decisions you make about assignments, choice of textbook, use of class time, etc. Ultimately the goals of any course are about changing students beliefs, understanding, and behavior with regard to a specific area of study. In thinking about the goals for your course you should be sure to incorporate an awareness of your students needs and expectations as well as your familiarity with the subject area of the course.
Based off your goals for the course you may develop a formal list of learning objectives. Learning objectives frame your goals for the course into specific goal posts your students will complete over the course of your class. Learning objectives should be presented in language that will make sense to your students and may be included in the syllabus or other course materials.
Once you have made decisions about the goals and objectives of your course you may be prepared to move forward with making decisions about the type of resources you will use. The most basic choice to make is frequently what textbook to choose, but you may also be making decisions about what section of the textbook to assign or additional readings that must be located or vetted.
Other resources that may need to be considered at this stage could include electronic resources such as articles that will be accessed via Treadwell, physical resources to be used in class such as lab equipment, and additional teaching resources you might have access to or decide you need to prepare yourself such as PowerPoint slides or handouts.
You may wish to make some initial decisions about the role of technology in your teaching based upon what resources are available to you in the classroom as well as what online features of the D2L system would be of use to you.
Assignments and Assessments
Building off your choices for the goals and objectives for the course as well as the constraints of the resources you have at hand, you will need to make some choices about what types of activities and assessments will be incorporated into your course. Is your student assessment based around a series of exams, group work, a research paper, a mixture of all three? Will student submit small weekly assignments or larger pieces that necessitate weeks of work? Will class time be spent on lectures, discussions, or activities? What role will tools like D2L play in your course? Make sure that your choices for activities that will be assessed are in alignment with your decisions with regard to your goals for the course.
Scheduling and Your Syllabus
We place a lot of importance on the syllabus as a formal document that we present on the first day of class, but ultimately it is the end product of a range of choices and decisions made many weeks beforehand. Ultimately you syllabus represents a series of course policies you are communicating to your students along with a plan for the semester. You likely have a loose conception of your plan before your start drafting your syllabus, but having to lay out the specifics and fit it to a schedule may reveal gaps or inconsistencies that must be addressed.