November 1, 2011
Use learning outcomes to organize class lectures and lessons and focus student attention
Begin developing a class lecture or plan for the class discussion with the specific student learning outcomes you intend to promote during that lecture. This approach will shift your focus from pure content coverage to student learning and understanding. Students have difficulty separating the essential course content from other content included in a lecture. If you clearly identify three or four main concepts and how these are related to one another as the primary goal of a given class session, you can focus the class discussion and activities on those key learning outcomes. Packing more content into a 50-minute block of time does not necessarily lead to more student learning or guarantee retention or understanding of all of the content presented. Students benefit from class time spent engaging in content-related problem solving and activities that require them to integrate content into a larger, coherent representation of how content is related to larger course questions and themes.
Want to learn more about backward course design?
Fink, D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Nilson, L. B. (2007). The graphic syllabus and the outcomes map: Communicating your course. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Tip based on suggestions included in Sibley, J., and Canuto, L. (2010). Guide to teaching for new faculty at UBC. Available at http://issuu.com/ubc-aspc-cis/docs/faculty_guide-2010
October 4, 2011
Use Universal Design to make course syllabi and handouts accessible with screen readers
Universal Design describes an approach to design that eliminates problems with accessibility for all users during design rather than retrofitting and correcting obstacles.
Many students use screen readers to access electronic documents and web pages. A bit of planning will enable you to create electronic documents and web pages that can be accessed and correctly read by the screen readers used by students with disabilities.
How can you avoid creating common obstacles that interfere with correct interpretation of electronic text or web pages by screen readers?
Insert a table to organize and format material such as a course calendar or chart for assigning grades to exam or assignment scores
Screen readers do not always read text that is enclosed in a text box correctly. If you are in the habit of creating tables with tabs and indents (as was done on typewriters), the screen reader might not read this material properly. Format this material with the table function instead.
Provide a caption or “alternative text” to explain the meaning of images
Screen readers cannot interpret images for users unless you provide a text description that explains the image in the document. You can provide this information in one of two ways:
Based in part on advice from the Technology & Learning Program, California State University, Chico (http://www.csuchico.edu/tlp/accessibility/syllabus/checklist.shtml).
August 23, 2011
Use an annotated syllabus to track your thinking about course design and teaching
The UWF Tenure and Promotion Guidelines (2010) include course syllabi as one example of artifacts that faculty might include in a tenure portfolio to document their contribution to high quality teaching. An annotated syllabus is an artifact that is based on a simple course syllabus and then grows in scope and in depth as instructors add annotations and links to additional materials. An annotated syllabus is an ideal mechanism for prompting and tracking your reflections about teaching and learning that contribute to good course design. You can also use an annotated syllabus to document the intellectual work you invest in teaching.
Another advantage to creating an annotated syllabus is the immediate and tangible benefit to course development. How often do you identify useful changes you might make to a course midway through the term? Changes might consist of better ways to design an assignment or modifications that improve an in-class learning activity. It is seldom possible to implement these changes during the term that you first think of them. Unless we capture these good ideas when they arise, we might not recall them or our rationale for making changes the next time we prepare for this course.
Annotated syllabi can motivate reflection on your assumptions about course design. Notations allow you to pose questions such as “is this textbook really accomplishing what I want from it?” or “does my policy about class participation motivate students to give their best?” or “is my grading rubric as clear as it can be about different levels of performance?” These notations will remind you to revisit these questions later, when you are more likely to have the time to explore other options for course design.
Annotate your syllabus in ways that serve your goals for improving the course and your teaching. Include annotations for questions you have about the course or teaching activities, to indicate where you are considering making changes, to explain the scholarly thinking that informed your decision about an aspect of the course design, or indicate assignments or other graded work that provide opportunities for you to assess how well students are achieving a desired learning outcome in the course.
Consider reading a book about instructional improvement or course design that could serve to prompt your own questioning about instructional choices. Some titles available from the CUTLA library that may be useful are:
Creating an annotated syllabus
Save a copy of your current syllabus in Word under a file name that identifies it as your annotated syllabus. Open the Review menu in Word and use the comments feature to add annotations at relevant points in your syllabus. Add a date to each comment to indicate when you implement these changes to the course syllabus. You can add reflections on the impact of changes in later terms.
You can view samples of annotated syllabi created by faculty at Metropolitan State College of Denver at http://metrofacultydevelopment.pbworks.com.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy submitted by Mark Potter, Director, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
April 19, 2011
Balance flexibility and fairness through course design
College students lead increasingly busy lives, juggling college courses, off-campus work schedules, family responsibilities, and other demands of personal life. When planning a course, consider the need to balance work and life, for your students and for yourself.
Maryellen Weimer (2006) encourages instructors to occasionally put themselves in their students’ shoes by taking a college course outside their field of expertise every few years. Attending an out-of-field course has several benefits.
This tip is based on a suggestion from Mark Potter, Center for Faculty Development, Metropolitan State College of Denver (http://www.mscd.edu/cfd/).
Robertson, D. (2003). Making time, making change: Avoiding overload in college teaching. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press.
Weimer, M. (2006). Enhancing scholarly work on teaching and learning: Professional literature that makes a difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
March 29, 2011
Preparing for the end of the term: Strategies for deterring grade complaints and coping with them when they occur
Strategies for deterring complaints
Strategies for coping when complaints occur
And for fun (in anticipation of Finals Week)
Visit the fantasy software Grader 2.95 created by Sally Kuhlenschmidt, Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET), Western Kentucky University
This tip was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium, (sponsored by Western Kentucky University) by Sally L. Kuhlenschmidt, Ph.D., Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET), Professor, Department of Psychology, Western Kentucky University.
February 8, 2011
Design courses that align learning outcomes with assignments, class activities, and assessments: Make the implicit explicit for improved student learning
Do you expect students to write professionally, using the accepted style of your discipline? Do you expect students to develop critical thinking skills that characterize scholarly thinking in your discipline? Do you hope your students will develop creativity in your course? Do you tell students directly about these expectations? Or are these implicit expectations?
How often have you thought, If I had only known that you wanted me to do that, I would have done it. We might have said this to an annoyed spouse, a funding agency that declined to fund our project, editors of journals, or major professors. We all appreciate when others clearly describe exactly what they expect us to do. When making requests ourselves, we often assume that some expectations “go without saying.” This assumption can set the stage for miscommunication, frustration, and disappointment with the work produced.
A recent review of syllabi for General Education courses indicated that the student learning outcomes described on syllabi focused almost entirely on course content. Although skills in writing, thinking, analysis of data, use of scholarly sources in argument, working effectively as a collaborator on a team, or adherence to professional ethics were implied in many assignments and course activities, these learning outcomes were seldom articulated as course student learning outcomes. Identify student learning outcomes related to implicit expectations about skills acquired along with content knowledge to clearly communicate course goals to students and colleagues.
Course redesign is a process in which faculty reflect on the relationship between their course goals, stated learning outcomes, the structure, activities, and assignments in a course, and the procedures used to evaluate and assess student learning. A well-aligned course is one in which the instructor intentionally creates classroom instruction, activities, or assignments that develop the skills describe in the SLOS. These courses will include assignments, projects, or exams that clearly assess these learning outcomes.
Contact the Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment if you would like to discuss course redesign for a course that you currently teach or design a course you are thinking about developing.
Resources on Course Design
Diamond, R. M. (2008). Designing and assessing courses and curricula: A practical guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fink, L. D. (2003) Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wehlburg, C. M. (2006). Meaningful course revision: Enhancing academic engagement using student learning data. Bolton, MA: Anker.
Wulff, D. H. (Ed.). (2005). Aligning for learning: Strategies for teaching effectiveness. Bolton, MA: Anker.
November 16, 2010
Web Resources on Course Design
Dee Fink, author of Creating Significant Learning Experiences, has launched a web site with resources on how to design courses that encourage student engagement and produce better student learning. http://www.designlearning.org/
The web site includes examples of course designs and links to useful print resources related to course design. An especially good resource on this site is the report, Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback (2004).
Juwah, C., Macfarlane-Dick, D., Matthew, B., Nicol, D., Ross, D., & Smith, B. (2004). Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback, York, UK: The Higher Education Academy (Generic Centre).
August 11, 2009
Planning a course syllabus to adapt to emergencies
Hurricane season reaches its peak during the first half of the fall term. Many instructors on the Gulf Coast plan their course calendars to accommodate a potential “hurricane day” much as instructors in other regions make contingency plans for “snow days.” Another incentive to make contingency plans for emergencies is the current concern over the emergence of a contagious illness that might limit face-to-face interactions (such as the H1N1 virus).
The UWF emergency planning team has created guidelines for contingency plan in the event of a campus closure or limited operation associated with inclement weather or a pandemic. Consult these guidelines (http://uwfemergency.org/) for planning information that could be included in your syllabus.
The Syllabus Construction page (http://uwf.edu/cutla/frs-syllabus.cfm) provides suggested language for the syllabus that refers students to sources of official information and describes various contingency plans that faculty might implement for ensuring continuity of courses following an emergency.
The following language can be added to a syllabus to inform students about how information about campus emergencies will be disseminated:
Official Emergency Information
Information about hurricane preparedness plans is available on the UWF web site:
Information about other emergency procedures is available on the UWF web site:
NOTE: This week’s tip is intended to help faculty plan future courses.
When students are at risk of failing the course
The first exam or major graded assignment in the term delivers a loud message to a certain number of students in a course: You are not performing well enough to succeed in this course. What can faculty do to help students who are “on the edge” pull back from the brink of disaster and succeed in the course?
August 19, 2008
Describe Expectations for Classroom Behavior in Your Syllabus
Many instructors include a paragraph about expectations for classroom behavior in their syllabus. (See the CUTLA web page on syllabus construction for a discussion of recommended and required elements of a UWF syllabus.) This practice may be particularly useful for courses with large enrollments of “millennial” students, who may arrive in college classes with attitudes about acceptable classroom behavior that differ from the expectations of faculty.
Some instructors leave this section of their syllabus open and hold a discussion during the first class meeting to establish mutual rules of conduct that will promote learning. In this activity, students identify student behaviors that disrupt their ability to concentrate and learn during class. They may also describe instructor behaviors that benefit (or disrupt) their ability to learn. Similarly, instructors contribute their expectations about student demeanor. This discussion helps socialize students who might be uninformed about appropriate academic behavior and allows the class to reach consensus about how it will function as a community.
CUTLA web page on syllabus construction: http://uwf.edu/cutla/frs-syllabus.cfm
Updated 11/26/13 tjf
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