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:

What is Flipped Teaching?

Flipped teaching is a new instructional method that has risen with the proliferation of high-speed Internet connections. Flipped teaching is the process of moving lecture content from face-to-face class time to before class by assigning it as homework. Often this involves students watching lecture videos prior to coming to class.

Why would you want to do this? The reason to use flipped teaching is to be able to use interactive learning methods within face-to-face class time. Rather than spending an hour lecturing, you can spend the hour having students working on problems independently or in groups, working on or discussing cases, group discussion, receiving assistance from you…anything you want!

If you have ever wished you had more class time or a better opportunity to work with students rather than just telling them about content, then flipped teaching is something you may want to consider.

Another benefit is that students can re-watch the videos as many times as they need.

Concerns that instructors have about flipped teaching:

  • How do I get students to watch the videos?
    • In order for students to watch the videos you must make sure that the videos are relevant. If students watch the videos, but come to class and don’t see the connection to the in-class activities, then they aren’t going to watch them. Keep the videos short and to the point. Another method that some instructors use is having students write a short quiz online or at the start of class that is based on the content from the videos.
  • Why would students come to class?
    • Class time should be used to move the students to a deeper level of understanding. Hopefully students want to get a deeper understanding, but you should encourage this by making sure that you assess the students at this new level. If you only ask questions on exams that students can learn from watching the videos, then they won’t come to class. But if you create assessments that build on the interactive work that takes place in class, then students will come to class, have a great experience and really see its value.

Flipped teaching is an exciting new method. For more information, see our Flipped Teaching resource page on our Website. To see an example of how it is being used on our campus, view the interview with Fred Phillips below.

Google Docs for Teaching and Learning

Google Docs have been around for about five years now and it “…is a free, Web-based office suite and data storage service offered by Google within its Google Drive service. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users” (Wikipedia)

I originally found Google Docs to be very convenient to be able to have access to my files on multiple computers. As I have experimented with them more, I have found them to be extremely useful in an educational setting. I have used them as both a teacher and also as a grad student.

Note that once you create a document you can keep it private or make it public. If it is public you can restrict who has access and whether the user can view, comment or edit.

Uses and benefits for teachers:

  • Store lessons in the cloud for editing and access anywhere
  • Use Google Forms for simple surveys and question submissions from students
  • Have students complete collaborative assignments with ease
  • Create handouts and share the link with students rather than printing or attaching/posting it

Uses and benefits for students:

  • Ability to work with classmates on a document in real-time
  • No need to email work back and forth – just share the link with group members
  • No need to send out new drafts because any updates will automatically appear
  • Impossible to forget your work at home
  • Document auto-saves to avoid losing any updates
  • Can highlight and Add Comment similar to Word

If this sounds like something you might be interested in, check out this tutorial video (note that there is a brief commercial at the start of the video):

Remind 101: Text Messaging for Instructors

How do your students do the majority of communication? The obvious answer is text messaging. Students seem to live on their phones and always have them with them; I think that we need to use this to our advantage!

Remind101 is a free service that was designed for K-12 teachers, but can easily be used in a higher education setting. It allows teachers to send messages to students in the form of a text message. The teacher simply creates an account on and sets up his or her class(es). The site then provides a number and a code. The students must subscribe to messages from the instructor by sending a text message to the number with the code as the message. That is all there is to it. Now the instructor is able to quickly and easily send text messages to the subscribers.

This sounds good, but I do not want my students texting me! That is the beauty of Remind101

  • Everything is run through the website or Apple iOS app
  • Students do not get your cell phone number
  • You do not get their numbers
  • You cannot send messages to individual students
  • Students cannot reply to your messages
  • You can schedule messages to be sent out at a later time

What type of messages would I send? Messages could range from reminders of due dates, reminders to bring certain materials to class, announcements regarding room or schedule changes, announcements regarding inclement weather, etc.

Remind101 is cleverly designed to be extremely simple and safe. Blackboard Learn, whichwe use here at the U of S does have a similar Announcement function, but it is not nearly as simple to use. I used Remind101 in the past and experienced great success.

If you would like a way to send out quick announcements or reminders to students, then look no further than Remind101.

View the video below to see exactly how it works:

Remind101 from remind101 on Vimeo.

Teaching Online: A Practical Guide

The Book

Teaching Online: A Practical GuideKo, S. & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide (3rd ed.) New York, NY: Routledge.

The target audiences of this book are post-secondary instructors and instructional designers. It is extremely thorough and covers three main topics of Getting Started, Putting the Course Together and Teaching in the Online Classroom.

Getting Started is an overview of online teaching, including answers to many common questions or concerns, reasons why classes should be offered online and also a detailed look at your institution’s level of readiness. At the University of Saskatchewan we fall into the high-readiness category, which bodes well for any instructors that are moving into teaching online.

Putting the Course Together looks at the process of building an online course. It explains that you should not plan to use all of the same materials as face-to-face course. Instead you should begin with an instructional design process of Analysis, Writing Outcomes and Design. This does not mean you will need to build everything from scratch, but rather suggests that the online medium may provide or require different approaches for some outcomes.  Chapter 3 on Course Design and Development is a chapter that I would highly recommend be read by all instructors that are exploring teaching online.

The Putting the Course Together section of the book also looks at:

  • working with others to design content
  • building the syllabus
  • putting the content together
  • organizing the content online
  • student activities, including discussion boards, guest speakers,  group work and so much more
  • copyright
  • web 2.0 tools
  • assessment rubrics

This section of the book may be better to scan through to find topics that you are looking for rather and coming back to when necessary rather than reading straight through because it goes very in depth and covers an overwhelmingly large variety of topics and tools.

Teaching in the Online Classroom begins with a look at technical problems that students will undoubtedly face and gives suggestions on how to deal with them, including how to orient your students to online learning. It then discusses classroom management with a focus again on how to effectively run asynchronous discussion boards. There are even examples provided of how to deal with more serious classroom management problems. The second to last chapter looks specifically at how to effectively run Blended Courses.

This book is great for anyone who is designing online courses or is taking on the task of teaching online courses. It covers every topic I can think related to teaching online and does so in a very practical way. Be warned that this is not a book that you would want to read just weeks before beginning to teach online, but rather should be read about six months to a year in advance of the course in order to start framing your online teaching style and philosophy. The book should then be referenced again when designing and teaching the course.

Organizing With Evernote

Sticky notes, notebooks, loose leaf, Word documents…we all have different ways of taking and storing notes. Many of us even have multiple methods of taking notes. Last fall I began experimenting with Evernote and haven’t looked back.

Evernote Logo

Evernote is an application and also a website that is designed to take notes. You can easily type out text-based notes, take pictures, record audio and save online content. This may sound fairly common but there are a few things that set Evernote apart from its competitors.

  • Free – there is a premium account but 99% of users only need the free features
  • Works on all operating systems and devices – PCs, Macs, iPad, iPhone, Android Phones, Android Tablets, etc.
  • Syncs with all of your devices – not only can you run Evernote on all of your devices, but a note you add on your phone will be immediately accessible on your computer (when connected to the internet) and vice-versa
  • Search – you can easily search all of your notes. If you scan in documents or hand written notes, Evernote will even search those!
  • Web Clipper – add the Evernote Web Clipper to your web browser and then you can easily add websites and articles to your notebook in order to read later
  • Sharing – notebooks can be shared between multiple people

These are some impressive features, but how would you use it? Here are some ideas:

  • For Students: use Evernote to take notes in your classes. Create a separate notebook for each class and you will be able to stay very organized, be able to search all of your notes and you will never lose them. If you need to take your notes by hand, consider scanning them into Evernote to archive and organize them.
  • For Instructors:
    • Set up notebooks for each course or class and put your lesson plans in as notes
    • If you have small classes, use Evernote to jot down assessments and notes about your students. This is a quick and easy way to organize your thoughts about their individual learning and participation.
  • For Research: use the Web Clipper to send articles and websites to your notebook quickly and easily. This is more effective than copying them into a Word document and the list is immediately available on all of your devices
  • For Staff: use Evernote to organize your thoughts around your different projects. At your meetings type notes directly into Evernote and you will always be able to search and reference back to them

As Evernote continues to grow and evolve, people figure out new and exciting ways to use it. The Evernote website shares innovative ways to use it. You can also sign up for a mailing list where they regularly share ideas. Here is a blog that gives Tips on how to use Evernote: 

If you still aren’t sure if this would be useful for you, download Evernote and try it out for a few days. You will be surprised at how easily it fits into your life!

Getting Started with Blended Learning

Blended learning, defined as using online tools to support face-to-face instruction, is a popular term these days in education. It can represent a very wide spectrum of ideas from posting lecture materials online all the way to holding some of your classes online. There are many possible benefits to employing blended approaches and with growing pressures to offer more courses online, I think now would be a great time to start exploring.

If you are thinking of doing some blending, here are ideas of where you could begin:

    1. Post your course syllabus and lecture notes – or portions of notes – to your course’s Blackboard page.
      • This will give you experience working within Blackboard in a simple way. Posting the lecture notes can also help to facilitate class discussion because students will be better able to focus on the lesson rather than writing.
      • Along with your notes, you could also post to supporting videos or podcasts.
      • If you can offload some of the more straightforward or mundane content from the course to outside of the class time, then you will have more time within class to engage students in discussion and other activities to support your lectures. This is commonly known as flipped teaching.
    2. Set up a discussion board for your course.
      • It’s often hard to have as much discussion as we would like during class time. With online discussions, all students – even the shy ones – are given the chance to collect their thoughts and be involved in class discussion. This can be a great sharing of ideas and can also help build a greater sense of community within the course.
    3. Create a course wiki.
      • If part of your course deals with knowledge-level content, you could set up a wiki along with questions related to the content. Assign students the task of inquiring, researching and then sharing their answers. This can replace the lectures when you are just telling the students about certain concepts. This can improve student engagement and accountability.
      • If you are unfamiliar with Wikis, here is a short video that explains the basics.

These are just a few ideas of how to begin experimenting with blending your learning environment. If you are interested in doing one or more of these and don’t know where to begin, please contact us at the GMCTE and we can help get you started!

Debates as a Teaching Method or Course Format

Recently, I did some reading on using debates as a course format. I had been familiar with using debates as an instructional strategy, but not as the actual format for an entire course.

I was able to find a few examples of where this had been previously done, including the Genome 475 course at the University of Washington:

For this course, debates were used for all of the units. Each unit was broken into three parts

  1. A introductory lecture or discussion
  2. The debate
  3. An open discussion of issues raised in the debate

Other important pieces of information from this example were that

  • Class attendance is required and part of assessment
  • Before the first debate, two faculty members have a debate as an example
  • The students not involved in the debate act as debate judges

Another example of a course can be found in “Debate: Innovative Teaching to Enhance Critical Thinking and Communication Skills in Healthcare Professionals” (PDF) by Dawn Hall (2011).

I highly recommend that you check out this article – especially the Debate Format table (Table 2 Page 4) and the Debate Rubric (Table 3 Page 5).

An interesting note from this course is that the instructor does not provide specific debate questions; rather the instructor provides a topic, such as nursing. The students not involved in the debate are then responsible for choosing the specific issue within the topic, for example, patient abandonment.


Photo by World Economic Forum

Throughout my research I also looked at:

Throughout this reading, I was able to pull out common themes or findings:

  • Students need pre-teaching on debate skills
  • Students need ample time to prepare for each debate – at least some of this time should be provided in class
  • There must be an open discussion following the debate – debates often miss the middle-ground surrounding an issue because they focus on the two ends of the spectrum
  • Students need pre-requisite knowledge on the topics – either delivered through lecture in this course prior to the debate planning or from previous courses
  • Debate format will work best with a class of approximately 15 students
  • All students need a role in every debate – this may include being judges or being responsible for debriefing
  • Place students into their roles of for or against an issue – do not allow them to choose. This allows for greater growth and new learning

Debate is a powerful instructional strategy that forces students to become immersed in research to support their arguments. If you have a course where this could work, I would highly recommend trying this design. Feel free to contact us here at GMCTE for assistance!

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