Designing Effective and Innovative Courses
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Designing Effective and Innovative Courses. A Practical Strategy. Roanoke College INQ 300 Development Workshop August 15-16, 2012 Adapted from a model developed for The Cutting Edge by Barbara J. Tewksbury Hamilton College.

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Roanoke College INQ 300 Development Workshop August 15-16, 2012

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Designing Effective and Innovative Courses

A Practical Strategy

Roanoke College INQ 300 Development Workshop

August 15-16, 2012

Adapted from a model developed for The Cutting Edge by

Barbara J. Tewksbury

Hamilton College

Applying the Science of Learning (Halpern and Hakel)

Goal: Teaching for long term retention and transfer

  • Provide repeated, spaced practice at retrieval

  • Vary conditions under which learning happens

  • Have students re-present information in new format

  • Assess students’ prior knowledge and experience

  • Confront students’ belief that learning should be easy

  • Give systematic and corrective feedback

  • Use lectures for recognition but not understanding

  • Expect “selective forgetting” of info not reinforced

  • Recognize depth/breadth tradeoff

  • Focus on what students do, not what professors do

Aim of this workshop

Introduce a practical strategy for designing an INQ 300 course that:

  • gets students to think for themselves in the context of a contemporary issue

  • stresses inquiry and de-emphasizes traditional direct instruction

  • emphasizes relevance, transferability, and future use

  • builds in authentic assessment

  • passes muster with our Curriculum Committee!

How are courses commonly designed?

  • Make list of content items important to coverage of the field

  • Develop syllabus by organizing items into topical outline

  • Flesh out topical items in lectures, recitations, discussions, labs

  • Test knowledge learned in course

What’s missing?

  • Consideration of what your students need or could use, particularly after the course is over

  • Articulation of desired student learning outcomes beyond content/coverage

  • Focus on student learning and problem solving rather than on coverage of material by the instructor

An alternative approach

Emphasis on designing a course in which:

  • Students learn significant and appropriate content and skills

  • But students also have practice in thinking for themselves and solving problems

  • Students leave the course prepared to use their knowledge and skills in the future

Over 30 years of research documents collaborative learning’s positive effect on …

  • content mastery

  • critical thinking ability

  • problem solving ability

  • development of interpersonal skills (highly valued by employers)

    Barkley, E.F., Cross, K.P., Major, C.H. (2005). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., & Smith, K.A. (1991). Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports, No. 4. Washington, DC: GW University.

An aside on terminology

  • Design model is focused on learning outcomes

  • Learning outcomes should be

    • concrete and

    • measurable (“My goal in life is to make a million $$”; “My goal next year is to win on Jeopardy!”).

Overview of this approach

  • Articulating context and audience

  • Setting learning outcomes

    • Overarching learning outcomes

    • Skills learning outcomes

  • Achieving desired outcomes through selecting content

  • Developing a course plan with assignments, activities, and assessments to achieve the desired outcomes

Step I: Context and audience

Our course design process begins with answering the following:

  • Who are my students?

  • What do they need?

  • What are the needs of the curriculum?

  • What are the constraints and support structure?

The Students in INQ 300

  • Mostly seniors, a few juniors

  • 20% transfers, 80% entered as freshman

  • Most around 21 years old

  • Any major

  • Completed INQ Core

    • INQ 110 and INQ 120

    • 200-level Perspectives courses

    • 90% took INQ 240 Statistics

The Intellectual Inquiry Curriculum

  • Critical inquiry into important questions

  • Methods of and questions asked by

    • Social Sciences

    • Natural Sciences

    • Mathematics

    • Humanities

The Intellectual Inquiry Curriculum

Skills—all revisited in INQ 300

  • Writing

  • Oral communication

  • Quantitative reasoning

  • Research/Information literacy

  • Collaboration

INQ 300 requires students to

  • work in small groups to

  • research and

  • draw on information and perspectives from all three divisions to

  • develop a proposal concerning a concept, approach, or solution to a contemporary problem that will be

  • presented in a formal oral defense.

INQ instructors should

Pose a question or topic in such a way that

  • students can draw on information and perspectives from all three divisions,

  • encourages research and creative application of facts to a contemporary problem so as to

  • students arrive at, propose, and defend a solution.

  • allows students to draw from their previous work

INQ 300 Course Requirements

  • Include a number of intellectually rigorous readings, along with any other types of source materials relevant to the instructors’ disciplines.

  • Ask students to complete four kinds of tasks. The particular way these tasks are completed is up to the instructor:

    • Application of previous work to the course topic

    • Individual Writing

    • Group Assignment (may incorporate individual work)

    • Oral defense of group assignment.

Course Structure

In order to make time for the required group project, faculty may wish to

  • Meet in a seminar style for the first portion of the course

  • Meet as a class only occasionally in later portions of the course

  • Spend significant time meeting with small groups to monitor progress

Assessment Needs

  • Individual paper scored on INQ Rubric

  • Oral presentation (individual or group) scored on INQ Rubric

  • Administer QR Test (multiple choice)

  • Collect final projects electronically.

    • Archive

    • Rubric-scored by faculty other than instructor

    • Also scored by instructor??? Rubric under development

Task #1: Context, Constraints, and Opportunities

  • What are the primary challenges posed by the context and constraints?

  • What opportunities are presented by the context and constraints that you could take advantage of in course design?

Step 2: Setting student-focusedoverarching & skill learning outcomes

  • Shouldn’t we be asking what we want the students to be able to do as a result of having completed the course, rather than what the instructor will expose them to?

  • Need to focus on what the students do, not the teacher

Setting student-focused, overarching learning outcomes

  • Example from an art history course

    • Give students a survey of art from a particular period


    • Enable students to go to an art museum and evaluate technique of an unfamiliar work or evaluate an unfamiliar work in its historical context or evaluate a work in the context of a particular artistic genre/school/style

Setting student-focused, overarching learning outcomes

  • Example from a bio course

    • Provide an overview of topics in general biology


    • Enable students to evaluate claims in the popular press or seek out and evaluate information or make informed decisions about issues involving genetically-engineered crops, stem cells, DNA testing, HIV AIDS, etc.

Common denominator

  • What sorts of things do you do simply because you are a professional in your discipline? For example, a geologist might

    • use the geologic record to reconstruct the past and to predict the future.

    • look at houses on floodplains, and wonder how people could be so stupid

    • hear the latest news from Mars and say, well that must mean that….

Verbs for learning outcomes involving lower order thinking skills

  • Knowledge, comprehension, application










Examples of learning outcomes involving lower order thinking skills

  • At the end of this course, I want students to be able to:

    • List the major contributing factors in the spread of disease.

    • Identify common rocks and minerals.

    • Describe how the Doppler shift provides information about moving objects, and give an illustrative example.

    • Cite examples of poor land use practice.

    • Discuss the major ways that AIDS is transmitted.

    • Calculate standard deviation for a set of data.

Examples of learning outcomes involving lower order thinking skills

While some of these learning outcomes involve a deeper level of knowledge and understanding than others, the goals are largely reiterative.

Verbs for learning outcomes involving higher order thinking skills

  • Analysis, synthesis, evaluation, some types of application










Examples of learning outcomes involving higher order thinking skills

At the end of this course, I want students to be able to:

  • Make an informed decision about a controversial topic not covered in class involving . . .

  • Collect and analyze data in order to . . .

  • Design models of . . .

  • Solve unfamiliar problems in . . .

  • Find and evaluate information/data on . . .

  • Predict the outcome of . . .

Examples of learning outcomes involving higher order thinking skills

  • What makes these different from the previous set is that they are analytical, rather than reiterative.

  • Focus is on new and different situations.

  • Emphasis is on integrating skills, abilities, knowledge, and understanding.

Why are overarching outcomes important?

If you want students to be good at something, they must practice; therefore, learning outcomes drive both course design and assessment.

Learning outcomes should be…

  • Student-centered

  • Focused on higher order thinking skills

  • Concrete

  • Comprised of measurable outcomes

Setting skill learning outcomes

  • Example skills

    • Accessing and reading the professional literature

    • Working in teams

    • Writing, quantitative skills, oral presentation

    • Critically assessing information on the web

  • These may be elements of overarching outcomes or may be their own outcomes

Common Learning Outcomes for INQ 300

  • Students will apply their research findings to a formal project addressing the course topic question and will successfully present this proposal in an oral defense.

  • Students will write well-organized and clearly reasoned papers both individually and with a group. Papers will have clear theses, effective organization, and a minimum of sentence-level errors.

Common Learning Outcomes for INQ 300

  • Students will contribute to meaningful, effective discussion and collaborative work that includes expressing, listening to, and debating ideas.

  • Students will be able to apply critical thinking and quantitative reasoning skills in a meaningful way.

Common Learning Outcomes for INQ 300

  • Students will make explicit, meaningful connections between past course work (both in the core and in their majors) and contemporary issues.

  • Students will demonstrate understanding of a contemporary issue or problem, an awareness of the types of inquiry needed to understand it, and the resources required for addressing it.

Step 3: Achieving outcomes through selecting content topics / issues / problems

  • What general content topics could you use to achieve the overarching learning outcomes of your INQ 300 course?

  • Recall the constraints & opportunities

INQ 300 Content Topics

  • Contemporary issue or problem

  • Amenable to group project format

  • Enable students to revisit previous courses

    • INQ (draw from all three divisions)

    • Major

  • Encourage research

  • Encourage creative approaches

  • Encourage meaningful critical thinking

What about the problem …

  • Should the problem arise from a contemporary issue?

  • Should everyone in the class work on the same problem? Should different groups have different problems?

  • Should the students propose the problem or be given the problem?

  • How focused should the problem be?

  • Does there need to be a concrete, workable solution to the problem?

Task #2: Begin to develop a course framework

  • Pick a theme or topic for your INQ 300 course.

  • Write an overarching content learning outcome for your course (heed four criteria for good goals).

  • Brainstorm problems that fit within this theme.

On the large Post-It:

  • Your name

  • Any other important info on context, challenges, and opportunities

  • Theme or topic or title

  • One overarching content learning outcome

  • Additional skill outcomes, if desired

  • Possible problems for students to address

Learning outcomes should be…

  • Student-centered

  • Focused on higher order thinking skills

  • Concrete

  • Comprised of measurable outcomes

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