Course-Development Plans

Fig. 1: Course Planning

As a designer and/or instructor, I am a lot more accurate and efficient whenever I use course-development plans. What do I mean by “course-development plans” you ask? In a nutshell, such a plan specifies what happens in the course, in what sequence, and for what purpose. This document is built early on (in the instructional-design stage in the ADDIE model) and acts as a guide the course production and post-production.

Terminology Pitstop

  • Learning Outcomes (sometimes also called “objectives”) refer to what students will be able to do by the end of instruction.
  • Outputs refers to the formative and summative assessment activities through which students meet the learning outcomes.
  • Inputs refers to the teaching activities that fill the learners’ knowledge, skill, and attitude gap in order for them to meet the learning outcomes
  • Alignment happens when outcomes, outputs, and inputs fit together seamlessly, much like puzzle pieces do in a completed puzzle.
  • Depending on the client, an instructional team may encompass the department Chair, one or more faculty members, office admins, myself as the designer, a technologist, a librarian, a media designer, one or more teaching assistants, etc.

You think of it. I probably have a template for it!

After decades of writing course-development plans (or CDP for short), I created templates anywhere from the most basic (just outcomes, outputs, and inputs), to the most comprehensive (including goals, outcomes, readings, media design notes, instructor notes, and much more). Based on the production time frame and nature of the course, I adapt these templates to create a custom course-development plan. This instructional-design stage is my favorite because of the creativity and teamwork involved as well as the unique mix of details and big-picture information.

It takes two to tango. Or so I hear.

To create a CDP, I collaborate with the respective course faculty member (who brings subject-matter expertise to the table) to map out teaching and learning activities to student learning outcomes for each week (or module/unit) of instruction. At one point or another, the faculty member creates all of the”ingredients” that go into the CDP (i.e., learning outcomes, inputs, and outputs). Planning is certainly a normal, organic process in the life of any course. What’s unique about writing such a plan with an instructional designer is the partnership.

Why retain the services of a designer to write a CDP?

What I bring to the table is the eye to detail, helping you see what might be blind spots. In preparation for creating a CDP, I look on the surface (i.e., the course modality, description, and outcomes) and also consider deeper factors that impact the design of the course (e.g., the knowledge and/or performance gap that this course addresses, where this course falls in the curriculum, any accreditation requirements, any college or departmental standards, the cost of materials, copyright, accessibility, etc.).

Another aspect that may be unique about writing a CDP with an instructional designer is the timing. In writing this document before the course is offered,  a roadmap is available to the instructional team to follow.

What good is a CDP to the instructional team?

This roadmap:

  1. First and foremost ensures instructional alignment. Carefully crafted inputs and outputs that came together precisely to fulfill the learning outcomes are the gold standard of instruction.
  2. Allows the instructional team time to shine. Since it is clear what we will need to do (e.g.,  close caption all videos in the course, build some custom illustrations, clear copyright for works we need to use in the course, order a textbook through the bookstore or create a course pack containing selected readings or look to adopt an open textbook, etc.) and we’ve planned ahead, we have time at our disposal to add value and increase the overall quality of the course. Ideally, we can have at least half of the course fully post produced in D2L before the semester starts.
  3. Just as flipping a course gives students time during class to focus on what matters most (actively engaging), planning a course ahead of the semester frees up valuable time so that you, the faculty, can focus on teaching the course during the semester. Looking back at my teaching years, I was most present in those courses that I had planned in detail before the first day of class.
  4. Virtually eliminates errors in the development, D2L implementation, teaching, and evaluation of the course. Planning ahead allows us to catch misalignments (such as leaps in logic, unmet outcomes, superfluous inputs, missing outputs, hconflicting information about due dates, assignment weights, etc.) in the early stages, thus making few or no errors when working with students. With a plan in hand, I can postproduce a course in D2L very quickly (module structure, file placeholders,  grades, and assignment placeholders). As we evaluate a course after its offering, the plan, in conjunction with quantitative and qualitative student data (performance and survey), allows us laser precision in tweaks that need to be made to the inputs and/or outputs for students to better master the outcomes.
  5. Is a reminder of how everything works in the course. Whether teaching or designing, I always have my hand in multiple course design projects at the same time. The only way to keep things straight is to refer to the course plans. Likewise, you can pick up your course plan and tell exactly how you need to prep for the next class session.
  6. Helps new members of the instructional team get up to speed. CDPs can help to quickly orient the instructional designer, faculty, teaching assistant, department Chair, etc. to the finer nuances of the course design. A course development plan is especially useful to faculty taking on an existing course; one quick glance at the CDP and they can tell what they need to teach each week, what reading assignments students have, what learning activities have been designed to meet the student learning outcomes, how much each assignment weights, and so forth.
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Fig. 2: A Sample Course Development Plan In Progress

Is it me, or are CDPs fun?

I may be biased but I really think that writing course development plans is not only useful, but also a lot of fun. If you’ve been in my office, you’ve seen the tell tell signs  of having fun on the job — boards of all kind (white board, flip chart, and push-pin board), post-its, and Sharpies of all sorts. Take a look at Figure 2, a course development plan in the making. I “played” with color post-its and eventually ended up creating the first internship course ever offered at my previous workplace, SCAD.

Wanna watch a video?

For more details on course development plans, please see the video below (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: A Tour of A Sample Course Development Plan

Open Invitation

Designers are well versed in the systematic construction of the instructional experience and can be invaluable partners in the design of courses as well as certificates and programs (those need plans too!). My mission is to collaborate with faculty members to produce effective, efficient, and engaging learning experiences while continuously improving the quality of course designs to meet or exceed nationally recognized standards. I hope to have the pleasure of working with you on a course plan (and many other design services).

If you are interested in partnering with me to create a course development plan for your course(s), I invite you to book a “Design a Course Development Plan” appointment at your convenience through my Book Now page.

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