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Planning Out Your Course

Why course planning?

Before you build out your course—whether face-to-face (f2f), hybrid, or online—it’s essential to plot out its basic structure. Doing course planning beforehand helps you shape and streamline your ideas for your course, and it gives you an opportunity to consider important design issues of organization, pacing, student experience, and learning objectives/outcomes. It also provides a basic road map to follow when you start constructing and gathering materials.

Getting started with course planning

Start by reviewing any course design guidelines or checklists that your program or academic director has provided.

Beyond design standards, you need to consider:

  • Your course outcomes or learning objectives
  • Your preferred teaching strategies and approaches
  • The best ways to assess your students in the context of your course, discipline, and level of student knowledge
  • Your preferred methods for presenting any instructor-generated content, such as mini-lectures or commentary, and how that content is offered (text, PowerPoint, audio, video, etc.)
  • Providing interactive learning activities in the context of your discipline/subject and student audience
  • Providing diverse learning approaches and a measure of choice to students in regard to assignments, e.g., is there more than one way for students to meet a learning outcome?
  • When teaching a hybrid course, how to take best advantage of both online and face-to-face modes
  • Your use of Blackboard areas and functions. Are there any campus or program templates for developing and organizing content? For example, in Blackboard, you might organize the content mainly in folders and items or you might use the Blackboard Learning Modules or Lesson Plan format. Are there any templates for naming the various areas (or buttons) on the navigation menu in Blackboard? For example, will you house most of your materials under a title of Course Materials or Lectures? Will you use the Grade Center and create your assignments so that Blackboard automatically generates a grade column for each?

Here’s a brief video on working with course templates:

Course planning tools

Before or even after you have developed your syllabus, take a moment to create your own course planning template or use one supplied by your program or campus. There are a lot of moving parts in an online or hybrid course, and a simple planning table can help you bring all the elements together into an overview that allows you to see how they correspond, build on, or follow each other. Even if you have inherited your course or are revising your existing one, it is still worthwhile to map it out in this manner.

You can easily create your own planning tool by making a table or list with columns for each unit, learning outcomes, topics, and main activities for each. (If you are teaching a hybrid course, add one more column to this template to indicate which weeks or sessions you will meet face-to-face, and what specific activities will take place online during those f2f weeks.) Also note where you might logically place items in Blackboard. A sample course plan for Weeks 2-4 of a hypothetical English course would be something like this:

Sample plan for an English course

Linked here is a planning tool that you may have previously seen during the Preparation workshop. As you fill out the planning table, be as detailed as possible. For example, you may want to note where an online article you plan to assign may be found, so you don’t need to hunt for the URL later, or write a brief description of what a particular assessment might be (e.g., “500-word analysis of data”). Being able to refer to these specifics later makes the process of building out your course much easier. If you’re lucky enough to work with an instructional designer, completing a detailed template like this before meeting will make the ensuing consultation more fruitful.

Thinking about your draft syllabus and schedule

The syllabus and schedule, whether combined into one document or offered separately, are an essential part of your online or hybrid course. Your campus may provide a template that stipulates the essentials, and that may also include institutional policies and resource links required of every syllabus for your program or school. Or you may have inherited a syllabus from a previous instructor of the course you are about to teach. Or perhaps you are operating largely on your own and need to create a syllabus from only a course description and some learning objectives. Whatever the case, at the very least, you will need to do the following in preparing your syllabus:

  • Add information unique to your course
  • Explain the protocols, expectations, and procedures for your course
  • State the graded components, grading criteria, and policies for your course
  • Provide a schedule with weekly dates, tasks, and dates for all major assignments, and for hybrid courses, an indication of f2f meeting dates.

Whatever materials you start with, you will need to review and consider what should be included in your syllabus. Take the time to think it through and you will find that your class will be better organized and your students clearer about expectations.

In addition to your syllabus, you will need to provide a schedule to your students that details the weekly tasks. Using a table to display the schedule is an easy way to organize your course schedule, but other formats can be equally clear as long as the order of the display is consistent with headings and information provided, and with sufficient spacing and formatting to enable the eye to locate and identify all elements at a glance.

For some examples of syllabus templates, please see the “Resources &rightarrow Online Course Design Guidelines & Checklists &rightarrow SPS Syllabus Template” section of the PTO workshop site.

Things to Think About:

  • Consider the course items listed under Getting Started with Course Planning section above.

Things to Do:

  • Ask your program director if there is a course site or syllabus program template you need to use for your course.
  • Download and begin to fill out the Course Planning Tool.


Some of this material has been adapted from Ko, S. S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.


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