Learning Innovation Emphasizes Fundamental Course Design Principles for Spring Semester

Duke at Spring

During the first two weeks of December, Learning Innovation hosted the first three workshops of our Winter Course Design series. Focusing on crafting good learning objectives, developing student-centered assessment and making learning active, respectively, these sessions offered participating instructors ideas about how they can create well-designed courses, no matter what medium.

If you are interested in preparing for your spring course but could not attend our initial events, you can keep a few takeaway lessons in mind as you begin planning your course

Consider What You Want Students to Remember from Your Course

Whether you’re teaching an in-person, online or hybrid course, good student-centered design principles are realized through intentional planning. Learning objectives appear at the beginning of a strong syllabus because they set the learning goals the course should meet by its conclusion.

Participants of the “Crafting Course Learning Objectives” session were asked to think about their course in terms of the big picture: Why does my course matter? What do I want my students to remember in five years? The responses to these questions acted as a foundation for how participants would approach their — and how you can approach your — courses’ learning objectives.

Good learning objectives use action verbs to describe specific expectations that are measurable through assessment. You can read more about the principles of writing learning objectives in our Course Design Guide or you can watch a short video from the workshop on this topic.

Student-Centered Assessments Should Support Learning Objectives, Success

Participants of “Developing Student-Centered Assessments” discussed how to identify the goals of assessment, how to design meaningful, authentic assessment and how to structure assessments to support student success. You can watch a recording of this workshop or read the recap below.

In order to ensure that their assessments are properly aligned with learning objectives, participants were asked to reflect on the questions: What level of thinking are you trying to measure? What assessment type makes sense? What prompts are appropriate?

One way to ensure your assignments match your objectives is to shift to authentic assessment. Authentic assessment means designing projects that allow your students to practice real-world skills. As you design assessments, you should keep in mind ways to optimize student success, such as clarifying expectations and including low-stakes assignments in your course. You can read more about how to design authentic assessments and support student success now.

Learning Should Be Active

The final session, which focused on active learning, adapted four different active learning techniques for Zoom. Participants took on the role of students as they explored how they could integrate the learning techniques “Background Knowledge Probe,” “Think-Pair-Share,” “Focused Listing” and “Gallery Walk” into their own online courses.

Consultants used Zoom tools to help adapt each active learning technique for the virtual classroom. Using the Zoom polling feature, participants answered a question to test their background knowledge on active learning. Breakout rooms were used to sort participants into smaller groups for the Think-Pair-Share and Gallery Walk exercises. To complete the Focused Listing activity over Zoom — where participants were asked to call out reasons why to use active learning in their classes — consultants employed the Zoom whiteboard tool to record their ideas.

The day ended with a reflection on what instructors would need to do to successfully implement active learning in their classrooms — and a few tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to start small with fewer and easier techniques to implement.
  • Be flexible and willing to adapt.
  • Be transparent with your students.

If you are interested in learning more about using breakout rooms for active learning, you can join us Thursday, January 14 from 10-11 a.m. EST for our workshop “Building Better Breakout Rooms.

Next Steps

For more help designing your Spring 2021 course, you can visit Duke Learning Innovation’s Flexible Teaching website. The site will walk you through how to design a resilient, student-centered course. Learning Innovation recently hosted and recorded an Orientation to Flexible Teaching, which included a tour of the website and helpful teaching tips.

You can join us for the final part of the Course Design Series “Is My Syllabus Ready?” on Tuesday, January 12 from 10-11:30 a.m. EST. This workshop will give you the opportunity to speak with colleagues about your syllabus for the upcoming semester. We will discuss important parts of the syllabus such as a course communication plan, learning objectives and assessment plan. Participants will be able to share past successes and discuss strategies to improve their syllabus.

Duke Learning Innovation staff will hold online office hours Monday through Friday from January 11-22 from 1-3 p.m. EST  to provide immediate, individual help with flexible teaching at duke.zoom.us/my/dukelearninginnovation, with the exception of the holiday, Monday, January 18. You can also email us at learninginnovation@duke.edu with your Spring course design questions.