Inclusive Course Design

Just as when taking a trip, it is crucial to have a vision of your desired destination when you design a course. With this in mind, developing a clear picture of what students should know, value, and be able to do at the end of the course (your learning outcomes) is an essential first step.

Once you articulate your learning goals, the second step is determining how you and your students will know whether they have achieved the outcomes. In other words, how will you and your students assess their learning progress?

The final step is determining what preparation and practice students will need in order to demonstrate their achievement of the learning outcomes. It is during this stage that you select instructional materials for the course, decide how to be provide access to these materials, and design learning activities in which students apply and practice their new knowledge. This process is often called “backwards course design” because you begin with the destination (what students will know or be able to do at the end of the course) rather than beginning with what you will begin to teach.

Each of these steps takes time and thought, but this process has the benefit of helping you avoid a common problem. Faculty often try to teach too much content. Thoughtful course design keeps the focus on the outcomes (knowledge, skills, and habits of mind) you consider most important for student success. Good course design saves time, improves the equity of course experience for students, and deepens learning for all.

In this Section

Defining Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes tell students the knowledge, skills, and values or habits of mind you expect them to master by the end of your course. The process of writing learning outcomes also helps you as the instructor to define the scope and goals of your course.

Assessment of Student Learning

Once you have determined what you expect students to learn, the next step is assessing their learning. Good assessment communicates both to the instructor and the student how they are doing in achieving the learning outcomes. It can consist of regular and frequent exercises to help students practice and apply their learning (formative) or cumulative assessments such as exams or final projects (summative).

Curriculum Alignment

After you have defined learning outcomes and how you will assess them, the next step is to identify the instructional strategies that you will use. Instructional strategies are described in more detail in this section.

Universal Design

To design an inclusive course, it is useful to consider the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which imagine student learning needs and abilities, as well as expressions of accomplishment, as broadly as possible. In short, designing courses using UDL frames involves multiple means of engagement with course content, representing and sharing information, and opportunities to practice and demonstrate learning.

Creating Your Course Syllabus

Your syllabus gives students a first impression about what to expect from your learning environment and conveys your aims and values in creating challenging, vibrant learning experiences. Your syllabus provides students with information about the course content, ways students will practice and demonstrate learning, and assessment methods. It is an opportunity to communicate the learning climate they will experience, identify specific learning expectations, and discuss resources and accessibility.