Strengthening Your Upper Division Course

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 8:30am-11:30am CIRES Fellows Room


Tom Hickson, University of St. Thomas (MN)

Participants in this session will work together to improve their upper division courses for majors or graduate students. With support, you will be able to improve your course to capitalize on backward design, Cutting Edge and InTeGrate collections and resources, and materials from this week's afternoon sessions. Leave with a redesigned course ready for you to implement with your majors.


Do you ever wonder, after teaching an upper division course, what students actually learned in that course, what they actually took away long term? Do you sometimes think, "huh, can my students actually do anything better/new/useful after taking my course?" Wouldn't it feel good to be able to point to specific goals that you know your students have achieved, rather than having a somewhat vague notion that they learned something and that you covered the content thoroughly? In this workshop we will focus on designing all or part of an upper division course so that students achieve specific, measurable goals. We will use principals of backward design (define goals first, then build exercises and content to achieve those goals) tailored to your course so that students will develop skills that we actually use as practicing scientists.

Target audience

Aside from the obvious audience of "faculty that teach upper division courses," participants in this workshop should
  • have a strong desire to change all or part of a course to be more goal oriented.
  • not be either sick of, nor afraid of, the word "assessment."
  • be keenly interested in improving an upper level course, with the goal in mind to teach students how to do what scientists do.
  • probably be open-minded to throwing out the need to cover all of the material and substituting it with activities that go into more depth.


By the end of this workshop participants should have developed one or more of the following:
  • A re-designed course schedule and syllabus that emphasizes the achievement of specific, assessable, over-arching and subsidiary skills goals for their students.
  • Outlines of one or more exercises that help students achieve some of these goals.
Participants will also come away with fresh ideas for how to use data and visualizations from the SERC collection(s) in their courses, as well as ways to engage students more effectively in the classroom with real-world experiences.


This workshop will closely follow the goals and structure of the Designing Effective and Innovative Courses tutorial, modified specifically for upper division courses.

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