Designing a course

Creating a brand new class or setting out to transform an existing curriculum can be a daunting task for new, as well as experienced, instructors. Although courses may vary in size, subject matter and level, a systematic process will help you plan and structure your course so as to effectively reach desired instructional goals.

An effective course design begins with asking questions in order to understand who your students are, deciding what you want them to learn, determining how you will measure whether students are learning, and planning activities, assignments and materials that are favorable to student learning.

Academics and course designers need to know who their students are and what experiences they will be bringing to their studies. This involves a consideration of course design and development in terms of the textual practices students are most familiar with, and how these might relate to the practices which they will be engaged in during the study of any particular course. Tutors need to find out as much as they can about students’ prior experiences of writing and reading. They have to stand back from assuming that these will easily map onto the practices students engage in as participants in the course. The course design needs to incorporate attention to the practices students bring from other contexts, both of work and previous study, and also to acknowledge how the textual demands of this course might sit with other more familiar literacy practices. In terms of this case study the course team knew that the students had already studied to first degree level, and some at postgraduate level. The course requires students to be conversant already or become quickly familiar with discourses common in social science and education. Yet the students were as likely to have a background in, for example, the natural sciences, languages or computer science. The course team attempted to explicate these kinds of issues in the course materials in order to help students recognize some of the disjunctures they might experience.

The next stage which we should take into consideration does not differ considerably from the previous ones. The main goal is to set already existing knowledge on a more scientific basic by setting up procedures for relating language analysis more closely to learners’ reasons for learning. According to it the main purpose of the Business French course is giving students an opportunity to function adequately in the situation in which they need to use language they learn, i.e. target situation. So the designing of the Business French course should have the identification of the target situation as the first step and only then carrying out a strict analysis of the linguistic features of that situation. These identified features will constitute the syllabus of the Business French course. This process is so-called needs analysis; however, Hutchinson and Walters use another notion which describes this process more accurate – “target situation analysis”.

The principle idea of this phase of development consists in the assumption that there are common reasoning and interpreting processes which give an opportunity to understand the meaning of the words with the help of discourse. The attention should be paid to the interpretive strategies which enable student to cope with the surface forms, for example to guess the meaning of the words from the context using visual layout to determine the type of text, utilizing cognates words which are similar in the target language and in the mother tongue. In this approach there is no need to be focused on specific subject registers because the underlying processes are not specific to any subject register.

Speaking about the origins of any language course development we identified three main forces which we might characterized as new ideas about language and learning. However, too little attention is given to the last of these forces – learning. All the stages given above were fundamentally defected because they were focused on descriptions of language use. All the previous stages described what people do with the language. Of course it helps to set the objectives of the course but our concern is with language learning. It is impossible to learn a language just describing and exemplifying what people do with it. A real effective approach should take into consideration an understanding of the processes of language learning. It has led us to the fifth phase of Business French development – the learning-centred approach.

The choice of a syllabus is a rather serious step in designing a course. There are different types of language teaching syllabus, and these types can be used in various teaching situations. In spite of the fact that there are 6 main types of syllabus, in practice, we will not be able to find them independently. Almost all language teaching syllabi present a combination of two or even more types. Usually for one course the dominant position is given to one syllabus types, while other types of syllabus may be combined with it. What is more, it is not easy to distinguish one type of syllabus from another. For example, if we take skillbased and task-based syllabi the distinction is not evident.

The ‘content’ of a course, for example, its reading lists, lecture notes (nowadays often found posted on the departmental website) and course materials, can easily become reified as repositories of received knowledge. There is, however, increasing recognition that the construction of knowledge is a dialogic process, as students mediate the texts through their own personal readings and understandings of the materials they encounter through their study of a course. In addition, the increased use, by students, of resources has implications for the status of different types of texts in the representation of knowledge, since course content is no longer confined to the books and articles indicated on course reading lists. In some contexts students are now as likely to follow a weblink for a course resource as they are to borrow a book orjournal article from the university library.

In order to understand more about the ways in which students negotiate and remediate texts, designers have to move away from conceptualizing course content as repositories of received knowledge, and recognize the relationship between epistemology and the construction of knowledge through textual practices. For some years researchers have illustrated the ways in which disciplinary bodies of knowledge are constructed through the writing practices associated with particular disciplines, yet courses are informed increasingly by many contrasting disciplinary ‘ways of knowing’, rather than one clearly defined disciplinary frame. Consequently, it is important that course designers attempt to be more explicit about the ways in which their course is constructed through particular textual practices, which may or may not be familiar to students on the course. Students may be unfamiliar with the kinds of texts they encounter in their studies more generally, and not only in terms of assessment. They may need space for discussion of some of the less obvious principles which underlie the texts they encounter during a course. In this instance the course team indicated some of the difficulties they predicted students might have if they were not familiar already with social science and education discourses.

Once you have outlined course goals and objectives and identified the assessment techniques you’re already using, you’ll want to think about the length and scope of the new course-embedded assessment techniques you’d like to implement.

In recognition of the possible gaps between students’ and tutors’ interpretation of the assessment task, the course team discussed at length the best way of devising and wording the assessment criteria. As a result of these discussions they came to the conclusion that they would avoid associating a numerical mark with a specific criterion for assessment, for example, ‘development of coherent argument (20 marks)’. They adopted a more discursive approach to the criteria, and instead of explicitly naming these as ‘criteria for assessment’, they explored them under the heading, ‘What will your tutor be looking for’.

The attempts of the course team to adopt a more discursive and interpretative approach to assessment, which acknowledged the inherent limitations of apportioning objective numerical grading to what are, inevitably, subjective assessments of the criteria, had failed from the students’ perspective. This experience has some similarities with findings in academic literacies research, where students conceptualize their problems with writing in ways which feel familiar to them, in terms of the surface features of grammar, spelling and punctuation, rather than with respect to deeper epistemological issues concerned with writing the discipline. In this instance students requested what they saw as an objective marking scheme, even though the implementation of the criteria themselves as a highly subjective process could, arguably, be laid open to much deeper scrutiny.

Classroom assessment can be conducted over the course of a semester or it can be done at a key moment during a specific part of class. Whether you assess student learning on a longer-term basis or “at-the-moment” really depends on what you are trying to evaluate and learn.

A good starting point for classroom assessment is to gauge the level of knowledge and understanding that students bring into the classroom at the start of the semester. A background knowledge probe asks students not only basic questions about previous coursework and preparation but also focuses on identifying the extent to which the student may or may not be familiar with key concepts that will be discussed in the course. Use the background knowledge probe at the beginning of the semester, at the start of a new unit, or prior to introducing a new topic.

The process of evaluation the course is rather important for the teacher. It helps not only to give the colleagues or administration an opportunity to assess the instructor’s work but also it assists the instructor to see the points in the course design necessary to be changed or improved.

The results of different researches in the field of course design and organization show that the evaluation given by learners should be taken into account and considered as reliable. The students’ evaluation of the course may include the perception of teachers’ personality and the easy of the course, however, the information which is gathered during the process of assessment can be informative of the way the instructor teaches. In order to get the benefits from evaluation it is necessary to design such evaluations forms or questionnaires which provide the teacher with students’ comments.

When the results of the evaluations are given in numbers it is not very helpful for the instructor. He or she needs to see and understand students’ thoughts. For this reason the tips for effective evaluations should be listed.

  1. The instructor should be sure that the students evaluate what he or she really wants and needs. The points which are evaluated by learners aimed at showing the aspects which the teacher did well and what points should be improved. It should be clear for students what to evaluate. In order to make it easy the instructor may make up a list of the things necessary to be assessed. It can consist of such aspects as organization, clarity, knowledge of the instructor, etc. The teacher needs to be specific, in case if the goal is to evaluate the teaching, the learners should not evaluate the teacher’s personality. They also mix it up in their minds. Designing two different evaluations forms (for the course content and teaching style) can be considered as a solution here. It is a god idea to give a clear statement of what to evaluate at the top of evaluation form. As an example of evaluation on content of the course the following questions can be asked: please, give our comments on content of the course, did the course meet your expectations? Please explain how your instructor could improve the way of helping students learn the materials covered in the course.
  2. Numerical ratings should be defined for different categories. Students can be asked to rate the instructor’s teaching. For this way of evaluation the subjective descriptions such as “excellent”, ‘good”, etc. should be omitted. The ratings need to be made according to how much a student agrees with a statement. For example, on the one hand, students may be offered the following statement to be evaluated: the material was presented in a clear manner that facilitated understanding. To evaluate some degree of agreement could be used:

1 – Strongly agree; 2 – agree; 3 – neutral; 4 – disagree; 5 – strongly disagree

On the other hand, the instructor may suggest the learners to evaluate the way of teaching in comparison with teaching of other instructors whom the students have been taught before. For such evaluation it is necessary to define the numbers, for example, of the clarity of the way material was presented in class to facilitate understanding. The ratings can be the following:

1– best of all instructors I have had in

other courses

2 – top 25%

  1. – middle 50%
  2. – worst 25%
  3. – worst of all instructors I have had in other courses
    1. It is necessary to leave plenty of space where students should leave their comments. It lies in the nature of people when they are asked to rate something just by circling one variant of the answer. In the majority of cases in such procedure people do not think a lot about the answer choice that is why the results may be not reliable. Vice versa, if people are offered enough place for their comments they will actually express their opinion about the question and write their own answer. The instructor should forget about not significant role of numbers, for this reason it will be a good idea to ask learners to list a given number of things.

e.g.define 3 things that you dislike in the way of given instructions by the teacher.

The process of evaluation should be conducted in the anonymous way. It makes profits for students as well as for teacher. It facilitates learners to be honest while giving their answers and not to be afraid of negative influence of their responses to their grades. The teacher receiving all the answers will get objective picture without taking somebody’s comments personally. For keeping anonymity, a volunteer among students may be chosen to collect the evaluations form with answers.

  1. There should be enough time for evaluation. It should be given at least 20 minutes for conducting evaluation; students need to feel that there is enough time to think and express their opinion and not to be hurried. Students may be asked to think about the whole course before the day of giving their comments and assessment. Also it would be reasonable to propose to assess the course at least a week before the finals in order students not to worry about wasting time before their finals. It is recommended not to conduct the evaluation right after the instructor gave the feedback concerning major assignments/ exams as it will result in bias evaluations.
  2. The instructor should not forget about mid-term evaluation. When the evaluation is conducted at the end of the course it will give a teacher an opportunity to improve the course for the next period of teaching with other students. However, it would be useful and interesting to know what students think about the course and the way of teaching in the moment when they are taking this course. Mid-term evaluation may take place some time during the course after the learners have managed to know how he instructor teaches. This can be done after the period of adaptation, for example. The goal of evaluation is to improve teaching and facilitate learning that is why the comments of students will be helpful and constructive. For such kind of evaluation the instructor may refuse of full evaluation form. The quick feedback can be achieved by means of the following methods:
  3. Index cards – students could give the comments concerning what the teacher does well and what should be changed or improved. What is more, students could be asked to point about what is not clear enough for them or any other things the instructor would like to know more about.
  4. Questionnaires – it proposes a short form of the evaluation form which is used at the end of the course. It also helps to define reasonable points to be improved. For example, students may be proposed to ask the question aimed at revealing the pace, amount and difficulty of the given material, was it too much or too little. They can enumerate the topics or lectures which were especially good and memorable. Another way is to prepare a list of paper and give it to each student in turns where they can write a question about the course they have.
  5. Small group discussions – students could be divided in small groups in order to discuss what requires to be improved, the representatives of each group are offered to submit the summary.

It depends on the teacher, his needs and available time for conducting the evaluation of the course. It can be done as often as it is required. Students also can be asked to give comments and creative recommendation for the whole course.

Course policy, grading and evaluation are very important for the students as well as for the teacher so it should be obligatory included in the syllabus. It is a good idea to mention what kind of materials will be used in the course. Students may be asked to give their feedback at the end of the course, by marking out the advantages and disadvantages of the course, what they liked/ disliked about their course, were their expectations legitimated; it can be done in an anonymous way if student want.



  1. Gatehouse Kristen. Key issues in Business French Curriculum Development. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol.7, No. 10, October 2001
  2. Munby, John. Communicative syllabus design. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996
  3. Nunan, D. The learner-centered curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991
  4. Andrews, J. Teaching assistants: A handbook of teaching ideas. San Diego, CA: University of California, San Diego, TA Development Program, 1992
  5. Goodlad J. and Zhixin Su. “Organization of the Curriculum,” in Philip Jackson (ed.), Handbook of Research on Curriculum. New York: Mac Millan, 1992
Year: 2012
City: Oskemen
Category: Philology