Planning and Designing Your Courses

Planning around potential barriers by thinking proactively about course design, such as the logistics of navigating your institution, accessibility services and recognizing gaps in resources can help proactively support students without requiring disclosure.

Designing a Syllabus

While there are many resources available on how to build a syllabus, some central points to consider incorporating are:

Generic Syllabus Maker
Easy Course Navigation
Linking Assignments to Learning Objectives and Outcomes
Sharing Your Teaching Philosophy
Include Accessibility Details
Syllabus Quiz

Generic Syllabus Maker

Using a Generic Syllabus Maker that creates a template of the class dates to help facilitate designing the weekly schedule.

Easy Course Navigation

Use the “Headings” function in Microsoft Word to facilitate screen-reader compatibility. The headings can create a table of contents for longer documents. You can set the table of contents to link to sections in your document for easier navigation.

Linking Assignments to Learning Objectives and Outcomes

Draw on Bloom’s Taxonomy [PDF] to connect assignments to particular learning styles. You can find more details on Bloom’s Taxonomy below.

Sharing Your Teaching Philosophy

You can include a statement on your teaching philosophy or model this philosophy through the syllabus.

For example, if you use a student-centred approach to learning, your syllabus should include details on student roles, collaboration, shared power, and professor accountability (Richmond 2016 [PDF]).

Include Accessibility Details

You can include accessibility details about the classroom space or location in the syllabus, such as the location of the closest washroom with electronic door opening mechanisms and gender-neutral or single-user washrooms.

For an example of this, see our Strategies for Accessibility in Strategies for Supporting Students.

Syllabus Quiz

A quiz based on the syllabus content may encourage students to read through the syllabus carefully. The quiz can be “open-book” with a small grade assignment.

For more information, including a list of helpful websites and resources that break down syllabus design, techniques, and best practices, refer to the list of Resources at the end of this section.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Model of learning objectives based on Bloom's Taxonomy. Image description available.
Figure 7.1 A model of learning objectives based on A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives [PDF] by Rex Heer, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University. Image is licensed under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. [Image description]

Bloom’s Taxonomy [PDF] is an educational framework first developed in the 1950s. As demonstrated in Fig 7.1, the taxonomy outlines a trajectory for learning development using action words (verbs) for objects or outcomes in learning (nouns) (i.e. what you learn and how you learn it). Consider mapping your course to ensure assignments connect to learning objects, starting with “lower order” to “higher order” skills.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been expanded beyond cognitive development to include affective and psychomotor skills, which includes learning to listen, participating and engaging, being receptive and adapting to feedback, and practicing through trial and error.

Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy

For each learning objective identified in the course, correlate an assignment with a brief statement on the purpose of the assignment as it relates to the learning objectives. Below is an example using a sexuality research methods course; the taxonomy categories are identified in bold italics.

Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy [Skip Table]

Learning Objective Assignment Purpose
Identify the methods used in sexuality research. Quiz To remember and identify the different methods used in sexuality research.
Apply sexuality research methods Interview To use interview methods and techniques learned through a short interview.
Reflect on the impact of methods for developing knowledge of sexuality. Fieldnotes To reflect on your experiences and observations in relation to sexuality following a participant observation exercise.
Design a sexuality research project. Ethics Protocol To create a research project using applied methods by designing an ethics protocol.

Table 1.4 Using Bloom's Taxonomy in designing courses.


Scaffolding

Because students enter most courses with varying skill sets, scaffolding is a strategy that helps students build on existing skills and knowledge through staged learning. Scaffolding can include both instructor and peer support and feedback, often incorporating revision into the structure of assignments and class activities. Examples of traditional scaffolding include:

  • breaking down assignments into smaller steps where feedback is offered throughout the assignment process rather than only upon final submission;
  • building group or peer learning assignments where more advanced students help those who are less advanced; or
  • developing different assignments that build on each other (e.g. a bibliography becomes the basis for an annotated bibliography, which is then used to develop a paper outline before writing the final paper).

However, Eva Boodman (2019) cautions that traditional scaffolding can reinforce rather than transform underlying structural racism and classism that underpins attempts to support academically underrepresented groups when this is done under the assumption that “stronger” students are those who possess traditional academic skills (30). Scaffolding can thus be an effective pedagogical tool but is also at risk of reinforcing a hierarchical view of knowledge acquisition in an educational context. To address this risk, Boodman proposes a model of radical scaffolding, which “de-hierarchizes the distribution of ‘skills’ in the class so that students are aware of the choices they have when they write in an institutional context” (31) by using “transparent, step-by-step, non-punitive skill-building“ in assignment design (32).

In this way, Boodman’s model of “radical scaffolding takes structural factors into account by accommodating a range of possible learning goals students may have, which include survival, passing, emotional expression and exploration, political activity on or off campus, and intellectual engagement for its own sake” (32).

If you are interested in incorporating or updating models of scaffolding into your courses, think of the following questions to help you with both assignment and course design:

  • What goal are you hoping students will take away from your course or this assignment?
  • How can you break down class assignments and activities into parts that build towards this goal?
  • What skills would help students complete these assignments and activities, and how can you incorporate skill-building into your course design (e.g., writing workshops or training modules)?
  • What structural barriers or underlying assumptions might impact different students’ abilities to complete these assignments (e.g., work schedules that conflict with completing work outside of class time, devaluation of non-academic writing skills, and course materials that might have an alienating effect on underrepresented and historically excluded students)?
  • How can you incorporate options and choices into the structure of your assignments to recognize a wider array of existing skill sets among your students?
  • How can you incorporate non-punitive forms of learning, exploring, and experimentation into your assignments to encourage skill building over skill mastery?

Gender-Neutral and Accessible Washrooms on Campus

Find the closest gender-neutral and accessible washroom to your classroom and include this on the syllabus (note that some washrooms may not be accessible in the evenings or on weekends.) Consider walking slowly from your classroom to this washroom and back, adding 5 minutes to your time, to estimate the time it might take a student to use this washroom. If this takes longer than the typical scheduled break time, offer accommodations for scheduled breaks and late entries/returns in your class.

Some single-user washrooms are only accessible with special security access, such as a staff member or a security escort or gaining access to a special key. Note in the syllabus if this is the case for the nearest accessible and gender-neutral washrooms.

Asking students to request accommodation for bathroom use can force “a Trans student to out themselves to staff” (Center for Gender Advocacy Mapping Project, 2020 [PDF]); therefore, it is preferable to use an open policy for the whole class around late entry/return if accessible and gender-neutral washrooms are not close by and fully accessible to students.


Workload Estimator

Depending on your institution, the average student is taking 4-5 classes per term, and at many institutions, full-time students also work part-time while in school. Students accessing loans and bursaries are often required to be full-time students, and these funds are usually inadequate on their own to cover the average cost of living for students. In programs that include mature students, students with children, and/or students who face financial barriers to accessing affordable housing, food, and transportation, finding time to complete coursework outside of class time can be a barrier to their education. Rising inflation rates combined with low salaries mean that students today often carry heavier financial responsibilities than previous generations.

We should assume that students are juggling multiple responsibilities and demands on their time and focus. If most courses assign approximately 10 hours of course material each week (including class time), then students face 40-50 hours/week of coursework. Adjusting your course to offset the competing responsibilities students are juggling can make your class more accessible and inclusive.

You can use an online workload estimator to estimate student workload as you generate weekly reading lists and assignments.


Active Participation

Active participation is not about quantity but the quality of each contribution to shared learning. Forms of active participation include:

  • Attending class regularly (i.e. as many classes as you can attend) and having completed all the readings;
  • Coming to class prepared to discuss the readings by bringing notes and/or marked-up copies of your readings;
  • Connecting your contributions to class discussion by referencing the readings;
  • Drawing class attention to the content of the readings and objects we examine.
  • Offering insight and analysis using the texts we’ve read together on the topics and objects being discussed;
  • Staying focused on discussion and trying to avoid looking at your phone, social media, email, texting, chat, web browsing, etc.; and
  • Participating in discussion to the best of your ability in a way that fosters peer participation.

Self-Assessment Exercise

You can use the self-assessment exercise Guidelines for Active Participation [PDF] to help your students reflect on their class participation and set goals for themselves throughout the semester. For example, invite students to complete the self-assessment at the start of the term to set out goals for their semester, then ask them to re-evaluate their participation at mid-term to reflect on what goals they’ve achieved and what they could do differently to help work towards their unattained goals.


Image Description

Figure 7.1 image description: A scaffolding image of Bloom’s Taxonomy with two working dimensions: knowledge and the cognitive process. See the table below for a side-by-side description of the x and y axes of the image. [Return to figure 7.1]

Table Alternative to Fig 7.1: A model of learning objectives based on Bloom's Taxonomy

Cognitive Process: Factual Knowledge Dimension Conceptual Knowledge Dimension Procedural Knowledge Dimension Metacognitive Knowledge Dimension
Remember List primary and secondary colours. Recognize symptoms of exhaustion. Recall how to perform CPR. Identify strategies for retaining information.
Understand Summarize features of a new product. Classify adhesives by toxicity. Clarify assembly instructions. Predict one's response to culture shock.
Apply Respond to frequently asked questions. Provide advice to novices. Carry out pH tests of water samples. Use techniques that match one's strength.
Analyze Select the most complete list of aci Differentiate high and low culture. Integrate compliance with regulations. Deconstruct one's biases.
Evaluate Check for consistency among sources. Determine relevance of results. Judge efficiency of sampling techniques. Reflect on one's progress.
Create Generate a log of daily activities. Assemble a team of experts. Design an efficient project workflow. Create an innovative learning portfolio.

Table 5.1: Alternative to Fig 7.1, with text in image adapted to readable table.

Resources

Pedagogy
Syllabus Design

Access to this chapter’s Zotero

Pedagogy

Atom Fire Arts Cooperative. 2020. How to Share Space: Creating Community in Classrooms and Beyond. Building Accountable Communities Project (Project NIA).
Boodman, Eva. 2019. “Radical Scaffolding Against Critique Fatigue.” Radical Teacher 115 (Fall): 27-32.
Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, University of Toronto. Active Learning Pedagogies.
Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. Gathering Formative Feedback with Mid-Course Evaluations. University of Toronto.
Centre for Teaching Support and Learning, Teaching Assistants’ Training Program. Community Agreements. University of Toronto.
Gonzalez, Jennifer. 2015. The Big List of Class Discussion Strategies. Cult of Pedagogy. October 15.
University of Windsor. How can you incorporate active learning into your classroom? [PDF]

Syllabus Design

Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Iowa State University. Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, University of Toronto. Developing a Course Syllabus.
Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo. Bloom’s Taxonomy Learning Activities and Assessments.
Gagnon, Kevin. “How to Create a Syllabus: Advice Guide.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 4 Sept, 2023.
Heer, Rex. A Model of Learning Objectives–based on A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching [PDF]. Iowa State University.
McDaniel, Caleb. Generic Syllabus Maker. Accessed June 22, 2024.
 Open Syllabus Project (website). Accessed June 22, 2024.
Richmond, Aaron S. 2016. Constructing a learner-centred syllabus: One professors’ journey (IDEA Paper 60). Manhattan, KS: IDEA Center.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Better Practices in the Classroom by Natalie Kouri-Towe and Myloe Martel-Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book