Course Design

Asking the Right Questions

Answering this first set of questions will identify information you need before working on the actual design of the course:

  • Who are the students?
  • What course requirements should affect my design?
  • What teaching model do I want to use?
  • How do logistics, such as class schedules, affect my design?

A second set of questions deals directly with course design:

  • What are the goals of my course?
  • What are the learning outcomes of my course?
  • How will I assess the achievement of goals and learning outcomes?
  • What strategies will support students’ learning related to goals and outcomes?

Who are the students? Students in English 1101, English 1102, and LMC 3403 are usually cooperative, curious, responsible, and eager to work hard. Many of them are tech-savvy and very resourceful. They expect to be challenged, but even students who were at the top of their classes in high school might not be fully prepared for the rigors of Georgia Tech. They could be quiet, perhaps intimidated by the uncertainties of a new environment, so unless you look closely for signs of struggle, you might not identify problems until the first major assignment.

Georgia Tech students also come from different cultural backgrounds. Some are the first or second generation of an immigrant family and the first to attend college. Others are international students who may have different expectations about classes and assignments. Such students bring insightful and critical perspectives to many topics discussed in class, but you should try to anticipate the particularities of their learning styles. Therefore, classes are usually composed of a heterogeneous group of students.

Classes usually include a heterogeneous group of students, but if you end up teaching discipline-specific sections, also known as “special sections,” the mix might differ significantly from the norm. While standard and special sections share the same core outcomes, special sections tailor themes and assignments to the concerns of a degree program such as Biomedical Engineering or Computer Science. If you teach a special section, your course design should focus on the specific academic needs of a relatively homogenous student population. For more on special sections, see Special Sections of English1101 and 1102 and of LMC 3403[1].

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What course requirements should affect my design? As the preceding pages on required learning outcomes indicate, English 1101, English 1102, and LMC 3403 have many prescribed learning outcomes. English 1101 and 1102 have a common electronic textbook, WOVENText, and you should discuss textbook choices for LMC 3403 with the Associate Director of the Writing and Communication Program.

What teaching model do I want to use? Today, Georgia Tech and most universities in the United States emphasize a learning-centered model. Donald Finkle points out, “[w]hat is transmitted to students through lecturing is simply not retained for any significant length of time” (qtd. in Grunert O’Brien 4). Maryellen Weiner, author of Learner-Centered Teaching recommends an approach guided by the following principles (80-91):

  • Teachers do learning tasks less
  • Teachers do less telling; students do more discovering
  • Teachers do more design work
  • Teachers do more modeling
  • Teachers do more to get students learning from and with each other
  • Teachers work to create climates for learning
  • Teachers do more with feedback

Regardless of which model you choose in the classroom, your course design should reflect the goals and outcomes of your course. Think critically and creatively about how you can align the two to produce an effective learning experience for your students.

How do logistics, such as class schedules, affect my course design? In your course design, you must consider the logistics involved in planning, structuring, and conducting a class. Some key aspects include:

  • Official semester/summer calendar with holidays and other important dates: For instance, knowing when you have to submit midterm progress report grades will determine how early you want to assign your first major assignment of your semester. Also, consider policies related to the last week of classes, called “Dead Week.” See for official calendars, and see the sections “Midterm Progress Reports” and “Dead Week” in the “Administrative Policies and Procedures” chapter of this handbook). These dates are very important and often inflexible. Georgia Tech has a long standing institutional history of how treating “Dead Week,” the type/amount of work that can be required then, and policies on course participation and assignments. Know these days so that you can plan accordingly.
  • Days and hours assigned to your class: Knowing if you have a 50- or 80-minute session could help determine the type of activities you may want to include in your classes. Monday/Wednesday/Friday courses usually have 50-minute meetings, and Tuesday/Thursday classes usually have 80-minute meetings.
  • Materials you need to place on reserve: When selecting articles and chapters for reading assignments, you may want to consider if you need to put those readings on reserve. To comply with copyright clearances, library staff will need to check that you are only requesting one chapter per book. Consider that library staff may take from one week to a month to process your request (they’re usually much faster, but they don’t make promises—see for details). Consider posting readings on T-Square, our course management system, instead of using reserves. Most people consider the option expensive and unnecessary, but if you want a printed coursepack you can use Printing & Copying Services,
  • Guest speakers: They’re often great additions. Consider several key questions:
    • What goal is this activity fulfilling?
    • How does it fit in the calendar?
    • What special equipment is required for this session?
    • What assignment can be designed in relation this activity?
  • Special assignments outside of classroom: Class trips to museums, shows, and other cultural opportunities in Atlanta are excellent ways to enrich your classes. If you’re teaching films, you might want to host screenings in a classroom such as Skiles 368, which you can reserve using the “Red Book” in the main administrative suite, Skiles 336.. Trying to make trips or screenings mandatory is tricky when the events do not occur during class hours; Georgia Tech students have crammed schedules, and 100% availability at any hour to which they didn’t commit when they registered for your course is a virtual impossibility. Instead, make alternative assignments available for students who cannot attend. When possible, help students to identify alternative ways to access the resources, e,g. other times when the site is open, the show is playing, or the movie is screening. Consider putting DVDs of films available on reserve at the Library. You can leave your own copies at the reserves (they’ll put labels on your DVD case… not good for collectibles); often, if you request a DVD to put on reserve, the Library will buy a copy. Outside of films, both Georgia Tech and the city of Atlanta have an array of events and activities that you could integrate into your class as a way to engage with university life.
  • Ordering supplementary textbooks: As soon as you know what you need, email book orders to Andrew, including author, title, and ISBN. If one of your supplementary textbooks is edited abroad, you should consider ordering your textbooks a couple of months before the first day of classes.

See also the next section, “Guidelines for Creating Syllabi and Assignments.”

What are the goals of my course? In addition to learning outcomes (see the sections on outcomes earlier in this chapter), what do you want to achieve in your course? Consider these questions:

  • What concepts and skills covered in assigned texts do I want to emphasize?
  • Are goals appropriate for specific students’ levels (e.g., first-year college students)?
  • Am I trying to cover too much ground?
  • Do goals related to course content require students to draw on prior knowledge? (And if so, will students necessarily have this knowledge?)

How will I assess the achievement of goals and learning outcomes? Assessments should reflect on whether and how well students have met an assignment’s specific, stated outcomes. Assessments can be formative, or provided during a project’s improvement to foster immediate improvement, and summative, or provided after a project’s completion to reflect on accomplishments.

The following table, taken from Carnegie Mellon’s Enhancing Education website, matches common learning objectives (or cognitive processes related to coursework) to types of assessment and methods for measurement. </p>

Learning Objectives and Assessments


What strategies will support students’ learning related to goals and outcomes? At this stage, instructors design class activities, assignments, and materials that will lead students toward the goals and learning outcomes already defined. Below, you will find some considerations and alternatives based on information provided by the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University:

  • Point your students to exactly what you want them to learn. Provide them with a strong foundational structure on which to build further learning by presenting content in a well-organized fashion
  • Design activities that develop your students’ ability to meet learning goals.
  • Identify the best activities for specific concepts and skills
  • Balance a variety of activities for your classes: discussions, team work, quizzes, oral presentations, or peer review, among many others.
  • Use quizzes, not only to assess learning, but as a learning tool for students to reflect on their assimilation processes

Here is a brief list of possible class activities, assignments, and materials

  • Lectures
  • Discussions
  • Case studies
  • Labs/studios
  • Reviews
  • Collaborations
  • WOVEN artifacts

ENGL 1101 and 1102 Product Expectations

The work of all English 1101 and English 1102 classes should be equivalent to producing approximately 25 “pages” of writing that is polished, public facing (or capable of being public facing), and receives substantive feedback from the instructor and/or peers. Put another way, students should do work equivalent to producing approximately 6,000-7,000 words of polished, public-facing prose, i.e., “high stakes” writing.

In multimodal classes, estimating page or word count equivalency is sometimes difficult because the artifacts students create don’t convert easily to conventional pages or words counts.

Another way to think of student productivity is in terms of projects and the rhetorical processes they involve. All English 1101 and English 1102 classes must require students to complete three to five discrete, major/substantive projects. (If three rather than four or five, the projects are necessarily more substantive.) Every one of these projects must involve multiple drafts, stages, or subparts.

You should design projects that help students understand how the modalities reinforce and complement one another during composition and in the final work product. The following checklist establishes programmatic requirements regarding assignments.

  • Every student in English 1101 and English 1102 must produce one individually authored project (or a major part of a much larger project) that is substantively prose—sustained, polished, and public-facing (or capable of being public facing). This individual effort must include visual elements in the design of the information and, optionally, embedded visual/graphic elements.
  • Writing must be involved during one or more phases of the project — in the planning, in the final artifact, and/or in the reflection.
  • Projects must engage more than one modality; the best projects will engage all modalities during the course of the project. For example, in completing a “This I believe…” essay and oral recording project, students may write analyses of NPR examples, produce several drafts of their own essay, provide written and oral feedback on peer drafts, include a slide show/photo essay to accompany their oral presentation, and so on.
  • Attention to the recursive processes of composition is critical. These processes include critical thinking, planning, brainstorming, mapping, drafting, translating, transforming, designing, self-assessing, peer reviewing, expert assessing, revising, editing, publishing, disseminating, reflecting.
  • You should design projects that help students understand how the modalities reinforce and complement one another during composition and in the final work product.

What counts as a “project”?

  • Can a formal essay be a project? Yes…
  • Can a research paper be a project? Yes…
  • Can a Pecha Kucha presentation be a project? Yes…
  • Can a poster be a project? Yes…
  • Can a script/production be a project? Yes…
  • Can a twitter essay be a project? Yes…
  • Can a photo essay be a project? Yes…
  • Can a PPT or Prezi (with or without voiceover) be a project? Yes…
  • Can a website be a project? Yes…
  • Can a collaborative video be a project? Yes…
  • Can a white paper be a project? Yes…

For an individual project, each student contributes work equivalent to what would be required to create approximately 4-6 “pages” of writing that is polished, public facing (or capable of being public facing), and receives substantive feedback from the instructor and/or peers. Put another way, a project should require each individual student to contribute total work equivalent to producing approximately 1,000-2,000 words of “high stakes” writing.

Common First Week Assessment in ENGL 1101 and 1102

Students in ENGL 1101 and 1102 participate in a common first week (CFW) which includes an overview of WOVEN multimodal communication principles, the learning goals for ENGL 1101/1102, and an introduction to your specific course theme. To gauge students’ familiarity with multimodal communication and help instructors learn about students’ backgrounds, students also create a CFW artifact, such as a short video, where they introduce themselves and speak about their past communication experiences. This artifact also typically asks students to relate their past experience to the goals and projects of ENGL 1101/1102. This assignment, along with a common reflections statement, is typically due at the start of the second week of classes (at the end of the add/drop period).

Specific instructions for the CFW artifact vary each year, but make sure you allot time for the CFW activities when planning your course and syllabus.

ENGL 1101 and 1102 Final Portfolio Requirement

What is a Final Portfolio?: In keeping with our program’s assessment initiatives, students in ENGL 1101 and 1102 must submit a multimodal reflective portfolio, which functions in lieu of a final exam. While guidelines for the Final Portfolio vary, it typically includes examples of the major artifacts in your course, the CFW artifact, and a selection of process documents (drafts) that the student chooses to represent their processes of composing and collaborating.

Students also compose an extended reflective introduction to the portfolio in which they select evidence from the projects they created in the course, provide a context for this evidence, and describe the ways in which the evidence supports their argument that they have met particular outcomes.

Students submit this portfolio to Mahara <>, Georgia Tech’s website platform, as a collection of pages that showcase each major artifact.

When to work on the Final Portfolio?: Typically, Brittain fellows devote the last full week of classes to discussing the final portfolio, helping students assemble and arrange materials, and workshopping drafts of the reflective essay. Keep this in mind as you design your syllabus, major artifact assignments, and schedule of readings. Throughout the semester, remind students about the Final Portfolio and discuss how each assignment, from a major final product to a process document to collaborative text messages (used in planning a group project) might fit into the portfolio. To help students practice using Mahara before finals week, we also recommend having students create artifact pages and uploading final projects in Mahara throughout the semester.

See the “Assignment, Course, and Programmatic Assessment” page for more information about the purposes of the final portfolio and its role in programmatic assessment.

Resources for Course Design

Recommended Books

  1. Diamond, Robert M. Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula: A Practical Guide. 3rd. ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008.
  2. Posner, George J. and Alan N Rudnitsky. Course Design: A Guide to Curriculum Development for Teachers. 7th edition. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon, 2005. (ISBN:0205457665)
  3. Grunert O’Brien, Judith, Barbara J. Millis, and Margaret W. Cohen. The Course Syllabus: a Learning-Centered Approach. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008.

Recommended Websites

  1. Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at Georgia Tech
  2. Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University
  3. Center for Instructional Development and Research – University of Washington
  4. Design and Teach a Course – Carnegie Mellon
  5. Welcome to the Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial
  6. Works Cited in the Preceding Pages on Course Design Center for Teaching. Vanderbilt University, Web.