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Understanding the Design of College Courses

As Duquesne students and faculty beginning a new academic year, thinking about the components of a course will aid both teaching and learning.  Every course has goals concerning what students should know and be able to do by the end of the semester, activities to achieve the goals (lectures, labs, homework assignments, readings, procedures, etc.), and ways to evaluate the achievement (quizzes, tests, projects, lab reports, recitals, papers, etc.).  When faculty and students understand the relationship between the goals, activities and evaluations, excellent teaching and learning occur.

Course Design for Faculty

Alignment of course objectives, activities and assessments assures student learning.  However, misalignment between the courses goals, activities or assessment techniques guarantees frustration for both the teacher and the student.

Misalignment can occur in multiple ways.  Consider the following two examples:

• If a course objective is to help students “to learn how to think critically about the subject,” limiting class activities to traditional lectures will not give students the opportunity to practice thinking critically.

• A teacher who wants his / her students "to be able to write a persuasive essay" but assesses students' learning through multiple-choice tests has poorly aligned the course goals and assessment techniques.

As the new academic year begins, structure your course activities and assessment practices to align with your course objectives.  Dee Fink’s article on “Integrated Course Design” gives helpful suggestions for aligning the elements for a successful course.

Read Fink’s Article


The Design of University Courses for Students

A key to succeeding in a course is your ability to recognize what the teacher wants you to learn, what the teacher wants you to do, and how the teacher will measure your progress.  At the beginning of a semester, your professors will give you a syllabus that outlines the learning goals, assignments and requirements.

Successful students recognize the relationship between these elements.  They approach class assignments and homework with the attitude that these activities contribute to learning.  When you have trouble understanding how a certain activity contributes to a course’s learning goals, contact the professor and ask them to help you understand the objective behind the activity.  Professors are usually happy to help students make these connections.

Students who do poorly in a course usually make the mistake of thinking that the activities and requirements are simply busy work.  Remember that course assignments and activities actually contribute to learning course materials. Work this semester to try to appreciate the reasons behind the professors’ assigned activities.  Such recognition will bring life to your learning and will increase your overall course performance.