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Best Practices

The LTO Best Practices

Issue No. 54: Course Redesign

Welcome to the fifty-fourth issue of The LTO Best Practices. Each month, the Learning & Teaching Office will be spotlighting a timely topic in education. This March, our topic is "Course Redesign."

Check out our page of Teaching Tips handouts for more downloadable documents on a variety of teaching topics.

For more information on course redesign, and for the citations for the research cited in this newsletter, download our Teaching Tips document on Course Redesign [pdf].


Reasons for Course Redesign

There can be many reasons to undergo a program of course redesign, and the process can take on many forms, from work being done by an individual instructor, to a systematic process being undertaken by a team of instructional designers. Reasons for course redesign that have appeared in the literature include:

  1. Increasing enrolment, improving student success, and increasing student engagement (Lo & Prohaska, 2011; Squires, Faulkner, & Hite, 2009)
  2. Reduce faculty effort and reducing cost (Kapp et al, 2011; NCAT, 2005)
  3. Addressing student diversity, equity, and inclusion (Hammerness & Darling-Hammond, 2002).
  4. Moving toward a curriculum that is “systematic and synergistic across courses and across the university” (Hammerness & Darling-Hammond, 2002); stressing the interdisciplinary nature of learning and the connection between courses (Sumter & Owens, 2011).
  5. Building courses that reflect new directions in teaching and learning theory
    • Creating stronger links between theory and practice; teaching students to value course content and see its connection to real life (Hammerness & Darling-Hammond, 2002; Rose & Torosyan, 2009).
    • Integrating active learning to create a student-centered classroom environment (Bergtrom, 2011; Aitken, 2005)
      • Introducing activities that improve problem-solving skills, integrate multiple perspectives, and encourage students to engage higher order thinking skills (Sheridan & Kelly, 2012)
      • Combining “large-group lectures, a media-rich interactive online environment, and small-group experiential learning activities” (Turner, 2009)
    • Giving students greater responsibilities for their own learning (Bergtrom, 2011; Lo & Prohaska, 2011); making learning more flexible (Tucker & Morris, 2011).
    • Ensuring constructive alignment between assessment tasks and student learning outcomes (Pardede & Lyons, 2012); creating “a new balance of summative and low-stakes progressive assessment of student achievement of learning objectives” (Bergtrom, 2011); providing students with frequent feedback on their learning progress (Aitken, 2005).
    • Matching course goals, activities, and feedback to a taxonomy of student learning (Fallahi, 2008) to develop “higher level skills such as analysis, synthesis, and problem-solving” (Killian & Brandon, 2009).
    • Converting courses to a blended model:
      • Putting course materials online, requiring electronic submission of assignments, and building collaborative activities into in-person meetings (Bergtrom, 2011; Lo & Prohaska, 2011).
      • Combining task-centered learning with peer-interaction and online delivery (Francom et al., 2009)

Models for Course Redesign

The process of course redesign takes the form of either “a series of stages or steps (forward or backward) or a cycle of revision” (Nomme & Birol, 2014). One basic example of a model for the course redesign process is the four-step cycle developed by Wiles & Bondi:

  1. Analyze the educational context
  2. Design the new curriculum
  3. Implement the changes
  4. Evaluate the redesign

Another model for course redesign is integrated course design. This model follows a backward cycle, focusing on individual lessons and units of instruction, integrated course design considers the “multifaceted realities of the designer's situational context” (Allen & Tanner, 2007). It also emphasizes “forward-looking assessment”—focusing on “the types of evidence-gathering strategies that incorporate knowledge and skills that people use outside of school” (Allen & Tanner, 2007).

This model, developed by L. Dee Fink, has three phases: building strong primary components, assembling the components into a coherent whole, and completing the final remaining tasks.

  • Building Strong Primary Components
    • What kind of expectations do students have for the course? How do these differ from how the department, institution, professional society, or community sees the value of the course?
    • What kinds of challenges does the subject present?
    • What are the values and characteristics of the instructor?
    • How does the course fit into the curricular context?
  • Assembling the Components
    • Creating the structure of the course
    • Selecting instructional strategies
    • Planning how each learning activity will unfold, class by class
  • Completing the Remaining Tasks
    • Developing a grading system that “reflects the entire scope of the learning goals and activities”
    • Anticipating any potential problems or conflicts and planning for them
    • Writing a syllabus that makes the design of the course explicit to students
    • Building feedback systems that will “provide effective information about how the course is going and how it went” (Allen & Tanner, 2007).

Key to any course redesign process is the selection of an appropriate framework with which to measure student understanding. This framework will be used to align learning outcomes for the course with the most appropriate instructional strategies and the most effective assessment methods. One popular framework for measuring student understanding is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.

Fink’s integrated course design model uses his own “Taxonomy of Significant Learning,” in which, unlike the hierarchy of Bloom's Taxonomy, the "elements of the taxonomy overlap, interacting and stimulating one another" (Allen & Tanner, 2007):

Taxonomy of significant learning (Fink, 2003)

Foundational knowledge—the facts, terms, formulas, concepts, principles, etc. that one understands and remembers

Application—using critical, creative, and practical (decision-making, problem-solving) skills

Integration—making connections among ideas, subjects, and people

Human dimensions—learning about and changing one's self; interacting with others

Caring—identifying and changing one's feelings, values, and interests

Learning how to learn—becoming a better, self-directed learner; learning to ask and answer questions


Next Issue

"The LTO Best Practices" is produced monthly by Michelle Schwartz, Research Associate at The Learning & Teaching Office of Ryerson University.

Do you have any thoughts, suggestions, or best practices that you would like to see appear in this newsletter? Please send all submissions to We look forward to including your contributions in our next issue!

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