Teach the Earth > Course Design > Course Design Tutorial > Tutorial overview

Tutorial Overview


In the most commonly-used method of course design, an instructor plans a course around a list of content items important to the discipline, with those items typically taken from a chapter list in a good text. Our tutorial, on the other hand, centers a course around a set of overarching goals that answer the question, "What do I want my students to be able to do when they have completed the course?"

What can I expect in the tutorial?

  • in Part I: Setting goals
    • To set overarching and ancillary skills goals for your course in the context of your students, your department, and your institution.
    • To choose specific content through which you can accomplish the overarching goals.
  • in Part II: Designing the course
    • To develop a course plan and consider how that course plan will help students achieve the overarching goals.
    • To explore a variety of teaching and assessment tools to help you build up your toolbox of techniques, add to your arsenal of ideas and templates for activities and assignments, and familiarize you with the growing collections of teaching materials accessible through On the Cutting Edge.
    • To design assignments and activities to give students practice in tasks relevant to the goals of the course and to develop assessments to evaluate students' progress toward the goals.
    • To construct the course syllabus.
  • in Part III: Following through
    • To learn tips from former workshop leaders and participants for how to follow through after the initial design phase.

How should I use the tutorial?

  • Choose a whole course or a portion of a course (e.g., the labs, a field trip, one topical section) on which to focus. The process works equally well for designing a brand new course or revising an existing one.
  • Work through the tutorial from start to finish, rather than by skipping around. The tutorial is designed to have you make decisions before proceeding to the next section, although the course design process itself tends to be iterative and you may find yourself revisiting decisions made in previous sections as you go along.
  • Before the term starts, you will need, at a bare minimum, to finish Part I (Setting Goals) and have an outline from Part II of what the assignments and activities will be for the course or section, even if you do not have all of the assignments and activities actually developed. The more you have planned at the start, though, the less likely it is that you will fall off the course design wagon before the end of the semester!

How long will the tutorial take?

Different people will work through this tutorial at vastly different speeds. Here, however, are a few guide posts:
  • At our face-to-face workshops, most participants who are working on a full course spend anywhere from two to five hours of thinking, reflection, and revision time on setting overarching goals and at least that much on selecting content topics to achieve those goals. These are deceptively difficult decisions—don't expect to knock them off while you're munching your lunch!
  • After four very full workshop days (no long boondoggles for coffee, no phone or e-mail interruptions...), our participants have completed the equivalent of the tutorial through most of Part II and go home with goals, a course outline, a list of potential activities, assignments, and assessments, and one activity outlined in detail.

What other resources are there on course design?

You may join our email list on course design in the geosciences.

While our workshop participants tell us that our strategy for course design outlined in this tutorial is practical and effective, it is by no means unique, nor is it the only way to design a course. Many others have written about course design, and we encourage you to refer to our resource list for other sources about course design.


If you have feedback for us, we would appreciate any comments about your experience in using this tutorial. If you have comments, please send an e-mail to Barbara Tewksbury.


Go to Tutorial Table of Contents


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©2005 On-line Course Design Tutorial developed by Dr. Barbara J. Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Dr. R. Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary) as part of the program On the Cutting Edge, funded by NSF grant DUE-0127310.

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