In my previous post I said that developing a course is like planning a trip; it is important to know where you want to go before you start driving. Once you know where you want to go, you can better plan how to get there. I have to admit that when I first started teaching, I fell into the same trap as many college faculty – I developed my courses around a textbook. Luckily, I have realized the error of those ways and have adjusted my strategy accordingly.
The best courses are developed by first considering how the course helps to meet the program outcomes. For example, if one of the outcomes of the entire degree program is that students will be able to communicate effectively, I should consider how my course fits into the program to build that skill. If my course comes early in the program, perhaps I should address the use of proper grammar and spelling to help build communication skills and build a course outcome and learning objectives accordingly. Once I have a clear picture of how my course helps to meet the program outcomes, I can begin to build the course outcomes.
As stated in my previous blog post, the course outcomes provide the road map for the course. They state what students should be able to do upon completion of the course. It is important to state these using action verbs that can be easily measured. When the course has clear and measurable outcomes, it is easy to assess student learning in the course. Going back to my road trip analogy, if I have a clear outcome for the trip (I am going to Disney World, for example), it is easy to measure if the trip was successful (Did I make it to Disney World?).
The course outcomes should be the big, over-arching skills that students should build during the course (there should be somewhere around 3-5 outcomes). I usually divide my courses into units based on the outcomes. For example, in an introductory financial accounting course, the course outcomes might be that the student should be able to: (1) complete the accounting cycle for a service-based business; (2) complete the accounting cycle for a merchandising business; (3) prepare financial statements for a sole proprietorship, partnership, and corporation; and (4) analyze the financial performance of a firm. My course would then be divided into four units with one of these major course outcomes as the theme for each unit.
If we consider the trip analogy, the outcomes are the major checkpoints during the trip. These are the points at which I will stop and assess whether I am on the right road, making adequate progress, and on target to arrive as expected. These provide opportunities to assess student progress through the course. They provide the opportunity to stop and make sure everyone is still “on the bus”.
Once the course outcomes are developed, I begin to write the learning objectives for each of the outcomes. The learning objectives provide more detail about how I will help students to build the skill identified in the course outcome. I must consider the cognitive development of the skill. For example, are there lower-level skills that build up to the major skill set? If one of my course outcomes is that students should be able to analyze the financial performance of a firm, for example, I must add learning objectives to build that skill, such as students should be able to calculate financial ratios.
Building the course outcomes and learning objectives is time consuming, but worth the effort. Without a clear roadmap for the course, it is easy for a course to veer off track.