Organizing Your Course to Facilitate Student Learning

Well-organized courses increases student motivation, performance, and persistence. Instructors can design their courses in many rich ways to enhance student motivation and learning opportunities for effective learning. When a course is designed so that the learning goals align with activities and assessments, it can help students develop conceptual awareness, learn to synthesize ideas, and begin constructing their own knowledge.

Enrich the Student Learning Experience

  • Open with Intrigue – Instructors might consider opening lessons with a provocative question, an interesting demonstration, or a problem related to the subject area with real life examples. This approach hooks student interest, starts critical thinking, and helps them connect prior learning to new ideas.
  • Provide a Roadmap – After engaging with students, many studens appreciate an overview of the day’s lesson which gives them a sense of direction and understanding about how ideas emerge and connect. Because students learn by connecting new knowledge with previous knowledge, a roadmap can help facilitate their learning.
  • Summarize Key Themes – Like providing a roadmap, instructors can help students to improve recall, grasp major content, and linking theory to practice. Summarizing the content can be done individually or in groups. Instructors might also discuss future content in the course in order to draw out connections in the subject area themes.
  • Change up the Room – The physical layout of a room can impact how students think about content and interact with others. Given the opportunity, instructors can consider various seating arrangements to encourage discussion and group learning with classmates. Switching up the seating can refresh student focus and encourage students to think in different ways.
  • Think-Pair-Share – As a way to quickly reinforce ideas or get students thinking during a lesson, instructors can ask students to:
    1. ponder a question or problem for a few minutes, perhaps with free writing, then
    2. turn to a partner, share their ideas, and discuss, and finally
    3. share the results of their discussion with the class. In less than 10 minutes, students think critically and analyze course content.
  • Offer Low-Stakes Assessment: Students appreciate opportunities to check in on their learning progress, especially when those check-ins do not impact their grade. Some brief formative assessments, like weekly quizzes, surveys, 1-minute reflection writing, or in-class discussion can help instructors gauge student progress while reinforcing key concepts.
  • Cultivate Reflection – Because people learn by making connections between known knowledge and new ideas, moments of reflection and big- picture thinking can give students time and opportunity to organize their knowledge into meaningful structures. Instructors might encourage students to explore and reflect (through practices like 1-minute papers, think-pair-share, or freewriting) on how major ideas they have learned fit within the real world.

Resources for Organizing Your Course

  • Course Goals - Writing effective learning outcomes can be a powerful first step when framing the goals of a course. The Office of Research and Planning can guide instructors in writing effective learning outcomes that align with their program and the overall strategic plan.
  • Course Activities - A variety of teaching strategies can help students make progress towards goals for learning. Try new approaches to your teaching strategy.
  • Course Assessment - Formative and summative assessment (during the course and at the end of the course, respectively) can help instructors gauge the pace of student learning, what techniques may be working, and how to determine if students are progressing.
  • Course Syllabus – A master syllabus is provided by the respective academic division for each course. The syllabus can be personalized with activities and assessments that meet course goals while being an effective tool for helping students approach the course and their personal learning skills. It is especially important that instructors go over the syllabus in one of the first class meetings.

Resources for Facilitating Students’ Skill and Knowledge Development

  • Understanding Student Minds – Ongoing research in the cognitive, educational, and sociological sciences continues to reveal that students – and all people – tend to construct knowledge and develop their learning in specific, predictable ways. Understanding how people learn can help instructors design teaching approaches that meet students where they are and motivate their confidence and desire to grow.
    • Instructors can also learn more about students and win their confidence by asking them how the class is going. A midterm student course evaluation invites students to help mold class structure and share their honest thoughts.
  • Diversity and Inclusion – When preparing to welcome students with a variety of life experiences, identities, and backgrounds, instructors can make sure to design an inclusive classroom climate and develop inclusive teaching strategies to ensure that all students are welcomed and empowered to interact.
  • Instructional Tools – Instructors can consider integrating a variety of instructional tools, from whiteboards to 3D models, that invite students to engage with each other and with course content. For instance, polling software can give students additional means for expressing their developing understanding or empower quieter students to express an opinion. Yale’s Learning Management System, Canvas, also features a variety of supports that can engage students and facilitate collaboration, including peer review tools, module organization, and integration with video capture.
  • Experiential Learning – Instructors at Yale have a treasure trove of resources at their fingertips, many of which have been used to expert effect. Instructors can carefully design field trips and other experiential learning that refresh student attention, connect course content to their lives, and bring new ideas to life.

Instructors are always invited and welcome to contact ITSPD to speak 1-on-1 with someone about their courses, set up a class observation (we offer many approaches), or learn more about our resources.