How Can I Plan - or Revise - My Courses More Efficiently?

April 30, 2019

By Jennifer Albat (Instructional Design and Learning Technologies)

Faculty are always looking for ways to save time. In last week’s Midweek Mentor (MWM) session, we discussed this topic as it relates to planning or revising courses. Dr. Lolita Paff of Penn State Berks went over a number of strategies to employ. The first of these is to start with the big picture. As you are teaching, you should be taking notes of what you would change for the next time. When I was teaching, I would just start a Word document called, To Change Next Time so I had a reference for assignments that didn’t go well or loopholes in my syllabus. This also includes looking at previous student feedback to see if something needs to be changed.

The big picture is a good place to look at refreshing the material. Review the materials, assignments, resources, and assessments. Is there “nice to know” information that can be removed? Are there more current events that can be brought into the course? Think about the order of the material so that challenging material comes at opportune times. For example, build in the more difficult material towards the beginning of the semester. Are you following the textbook or can the material be chunked into a more functional structure? Build in looping when possible so that material can be revisited later to avoid students doing brain dumps.

In our session, I also brought up a point from L. Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experiences. Think about your biggest dream for the course. What do you want students to remember 1-2 years after the course is over? “What is the distinctive education impact you would like for your teaching and your course to have on your students?” Considering the “big takeaways” will have a huge impact on the students’ learning experience.

The next steps in planning or revising would be to use the course calendar as a planning tool. Begin with listing each class session and include holidays, breaks, and registrar deadlines. Also, identify major cultural events on campus that may be a busy time for students. One MWM participant mentioned that Mass Communications Week is a bad time for their students when it comes to assignments or major assessments.

Think about the pacing of the course. Is there enough time for each topic? Build in cushions in case additional time is needed. Be purposeful in the schedule about what takes place before, during and after each class meeting. Consider class preparation to be called “warm up work” instead of homework which will encourage the work to be completed prior to class.

After you look at the big picture and plan the course calendar, then revisit the assessments. Are the amount of warm ups, assignments, exams, papers, and projects adequate for the material? After this review, continue to update any other areas of the syllabus such as office hours and policies. Use the course calendar to modify dates within the Learning Management System. It was mentioned in the session that Blackboard’s Date Management tool is excellent for quickly modifying anything with a date and time stamp.

Designing a course for a full semester frees up your time to find current resources or complete other tasks related to teaching. There’s no guesswork in what’s coming up on the calendar and you can walk into class fully prepared.

These are all great strategies to utilize when planning or revising a course; however, it may be a new experience if you are not used to planning an entire course at once. Remember that the ITS Instructional Design & Learning Technologies team has extensive course design experience and will even help you build a course in Blackboard if you desire. One of the tools we will use to begin is the Course Planning Grid. We will sit with you and help map the learning activities and assessments to ensure they align with the course objectives. Contact the IDLT team at if you are interested in scheduling a consultation.

Categories: All Categories, Courses