Design Tips and Forms

Design Tips and Forms

Here are some documents with ideas and information that may be valuable to anyone trying to design their courses.  The  items shown in dark blue are links to documents.

These are organized around the main tasks in Fink’s Model of Integrated Course Design.


The first first step in the process of designing a course is to gather information about various “Situational Factors”.  The link below gives a list of factors that sometimes affect the decisions we make in the design process.  Information about the “Specific Context” will always be important.  The other factors are sometimes important for a particular course, sometimes not.  We need to decide which ones are and gather information about them.

Situational Factors to Consider When Designing a Course

“A Primer on Writing Effective Learning-Centered Course Goals” – by Bob Noyd, Air Force Academy

When the Air Force Academy decided to move all courses toward being more learning-centered, they realized their faculty would need to write good learning goals for their courses.  Bob Noyd put this document together to help them do that.

Note:  This also contains a list of verbs associated with each of the 6 kinds of learning in Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning, on p. 4.

Writing Good Learning Goals – by Robert Noyd, US Air Force Academy


The 3-column table will help make sure you have the appropriate assessment and learning activities in the course, for your desired kinds of learning, i.e., your learning goals.

                3-Column Table – blank form

Also provided is a document with 3 examples of well-developed 3-column tables (one each for a natural science, social science, and humanities course).

              3 examples of well-developed 3-column tables

Activities for Active Learning

When we want to use active learning in our courses, what are the activities that support the three major functions of active learning:  Providing students with information and ideas, Providing them with “doing” or “observing” experiences, and Providing them with opportunities to reflect on their learning?

Based on a review of many good courses described in the literature of teaching and learning, here is a table of multiple, specific kinds of learning activities, categorized by the function they serve.

Multiple Activities To Support Active Learning

Assessing Different Kinds of Significant Learning

Many people struggle with the task of assessing the learning goals in Fink’s Taxonomy that are not strictly cognitive.  This list offers a list of various ways for assessing student learning in each of the six categories.

Procedures for Assessing Different Kinds of Significant Learning

LAT Quick Reference Guide

Barkley & Major, in their book on “Learning Assessment Techniques“,  identified 50 different assessment techniques, all related to one or another of the kinds of learning in the Taxonomy of Significant Learning [see this website, “Books on Related Topic”].  In this book is their Quick Reference Guide that provides a short description of each of the 50 Techniques.

LAT Quick Reference

 A.   Building the Sequence of Units

Keeping in mind your “Big Dream” for the course as a whole, you should start putting the pieces together by identifying a set of units which will be like “containers” for the various learning and assessment activities.  The document below (4 pp) provides some guidance for doing this.

Building a good sequence of Units in a course

B.  Building the Weekly Schedule 

After you have a good sequence of units, you can start the process of putting specific kinds of assessment and learning activities in the units.  The form below provides some structure for doing that.

Form for building your weekly schedule

Sometimes people like to see what a syllabus and weekly schedule look like, that have been developed using these procedures.  Below is the syllabus and the associated weekly schedule for a course that Dee Fink once taught, a course for graduate students on “Preparing for College-Level Teaching”.

Syllabus – from Dee Fink’s Course

Weekly Schedule – from Dee Fink’s Course

C.  Labels for Each Unit:  Use Questions rather than Nouns??

A professor at the University of Virginia some years ago came up with the idea of using questions rather than nouns as labels for the unit.  This seems like a good mechanism for a more effective way of engaging students: questions make us want to know the answers to those questions.  Here is list of the units labels, using questions, for a course on the “Biology of Aging”.

Weekly Unit Labels for a course on the “Biology of Aging”

Forms for Integrating Totally Online (T.O.) Courses

The form for creating a “Weekly Schedule” (shown above) was designed for and works well for Face-to-Face (F2F) courses.  But we had to create something different for T.O. courses.  The first form below is a template for identifying the activities needed in each unit or module of a T.O. course; the second shows a powerful sequence of activities, i.e., a possible teaching strategy, for a T.O. course.

Teaching Strategies

All teachers need a powerful teaching strategy, i.e., a particular combination and sequence of teaching/learning activities that build throughout the course and result in high-powered learning by the end of the course.

Teachers can create their own teaching strategy or apply a general strategy to their particular course and subject matter.  One particularly valuable general teaching strategy is “Team-Based Learning.”  Below is a link to a new 12-minute video about team-based learning, including interviews with both teachers and students about its value.  [This was created by Michael Sweet at the University of Texas.]

Video about “Team-Based Learning”

A Rubric for Assessing Your Course Syllabus

Michael Palmer and his colleagues at the University of Virginia have created an award-winning rubric for assessing the degree to which a course syllabus is learning-centered.  It is based on the Taxonomy of Significant Learning and the model of Integrated Course Design.

The link below is an article about the rubric.  Within this article, you can click on a link to the actual rubric itself.

Getting Students On-Board with New Ways of Teaching

One of the common challenges of using new ways of teaching is that students resist  and offer pushback.  What can we do about that as teachers?

An extraordinary idea has been created and offered by Prof. Gary Smith at the University of New Mexico.  This article was published in the “National Teaching & Learning Forum.”   Prof. Smith posed two special questions to students on the first day of class.  These questions had a major impact on students’ readiness to embrace a new way of teaching.

Impact of First-Day Questions

Creating a “String of Activities”

One idea that Fink had after writing his 2003 book, was to create a “string of activities” in a course that would work, step-by-step, toward a culminating project that supported one or more major learning goals for the course.  This link describes one particularly effective String of Activities for one of his courses.

“String of Activities” – Help students learn how to learn