Planning or Re-Designing a Course: Where to Begin

You have a new course to plan or are planning to re-design a current course. Where do you begin? The place where you should begin is technically called a front-end analysis, but could be thought of as the pre-planning you do before you actually start lesson planning.

The first step involves exploring what it is that the instruction or course is intended to do. For example, ask yourself the question, “What do we want students to be able to do after taking this course that they can’t do now?” You should take a moment to confirm that this is an instructional problem, which is, “a problem that can be solved through instruction, unlike motivational or technical problems” (Schwier, n.d.). If this is an instructional problem, then you should move forward to the next step.

The second step is to consider who your students are and what they already know. This is a very important and fun step! At this point you want to ask the questions,

  • “Who are my students?”
  • “What do they already know about ___________?”
  • “What are the characteristics of my learners?”  and
  • “Are all my students alike?”

These are all really important questions to consider before diving into actually building the course. It is very important to know your starting point and to know your students. Some of these answers may come from speaking with colleagues, your own past experiences or surveying future students.

The third step is to consider the context that the learning will take place within. This includes thinking about the classroom environment and also the real-world environment where these skills or knowledge will be applied. A concrete example of this is considering whether or not the layout in your classroom will be conducive to group work. Other things to consider are the length of your classes, the frequency, etc. (would you teach a course in the same way if you had three 50-minute sessions vs. one three-hour session?).

The final step in this pre-planning activity is to begin looking at your content. You should form a broad instructional goal for the course. An instructional goal is, “a general statement of what learners should be able to do at the conclusion of a course or unit to demonstrate what they have learned” (Schwier, n.d.). And then to guide your instruction, you will want to break that instructional goal into smaller pieces. From these smaller pieces you will be able to develop learning outcomes and then in turn develop your lessons – the key here is that instruction comes from the learning outcomes and they come from the instructional goal. This process provides alignment and can save instructional time because you won’t accidentally be teaching extraneous content that is not in line with the course goal!

I hope this post provides a bit of clarity as to where to begin when you have the daunting task of planning a new course.

The references in this post come from:

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