Course Design – Getting Started

Start Where You Are

Course design and/or revision begins with where you are in the process and what you have. You may have:

  • A syllabus from another faculty member who taught the course previously (or a syllabus from another school that needs to be revised to the Dartmouth term)
  • A textbook
  • A Big and exciting idea you have that you want to turn into a course
  • A gap in the curriculum/program that needs to be filled
  • A desire to address needs of a particular group or type of student

Make Some Decisions

No matter where you start, at some point in the design process you will need to make decisions prompted by the following questions:

  • What do I want my students to know and be able to do with that knowledge by the end of the course? In the next 5 years? (See Learning Outcomes)
  • What evidence will the students and I need, along the way and at the end of the course, to measure their success?
  • What kinds of experiences and in what sequence shall students have in order to prepare and practice for assessment?
  • How will I use my Canvas site?
  • What do I need to include in my syllabus? How best to communicate the course to my students? (See Syllabus Guide)
  • How will I know how to improve my course, while it’s in progress and for the next iteration?

Consider These Factors

In addition, there are many significant and/or situational factors that should be taken into account when designing or redesigning your course:

  • What we know about how people learn, especially recent neuroscience and cognitive research.
  • Characteristics of your learners: Where your intended students stand developmentally, their prior knowledge and previous life experiences that may be relevant, their preferred learning styles.
  • Context of the teaching situation: Level of the class, what kind of a learning space does it require, when it is scheduled, expectations from your department.
  • Characteristics of the teacher: What beliefs and values do you bring to the classroom about teaching and learning? What level of expertise do you have? What are your teaching strengths and weakness?


No matter where you are starting, the following resources can help guide you through the process:

Teaching & Learning Team

A team of learning designers and educational developers is here to assist you in exploring these topics and applying these principles. Contact us!

Dartmouth Course Design Institute

Enroll in our self-paced Course Design Institute to work through course design readindgs, short videos, and exercises in Canvas, and consider applying to participate in our live, facilitated Course Design Institute which takes place in December, March, and July each year. The call for applications will be announced on this page and in the Teaching and Learning Newsletter leading up to each live institute.

Integrated Course Design – Self-Directed Guide

Depending on how much time and interest you have, Dee Fink, the former director of the Instructional Development Program at University of Oklahoma, has created 2 abbreviated versions of his text Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).  The 7-page version is Integrated Course Design, IDEA PAPER #42.  A more in-depth version is Fink's A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning.

Additional Resources