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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Yeah, so in the course of developing Sonic Arts at the university, which is a fairly young stream, I’ve needed to build a couple of subjects for it. A lot of these have been based around projects, project kind of based things. One of them is a lot more theoretical. It’s a subject called Audio Culture. And it looks at cultures of listening, cultures of sound, a lot of the theory around these things. So when I built that course, I built it in a way that I wanted to make the theory as approachable as possible. And part of the way that I did that was through structuring collaborative work around the theory and trying to find things that made it really relevant.

Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds In terms of in the classroom, there’s challenges related to the affordances of the spaces. So you can be in a lab where there’s not really space for students to work together, or they’re using individual software. And again, I’m seeing the university move towards resolving some of those through various processes, allowing students to have software on their own computers, or putting together active learning spaces that allow laptops to be plugged into a shared screen. So things like this are really helpful. If you don’t have that, I think work to the strengths of what you have. Think about how you can create a community in the environment that you have.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds It might be an online community, it might be through forums or wikis or something that students can engage with offsite. Yeah, I think I will definitely be continuing reflecting and evolving. So my lessons, although they may seem stable at this point in time, in terms of the refinement process and the delivery aspect, other things need to be integrated in terms of the latest way of looking at things. So it will evolve according to the research practise. Also maybe student cohorts change from one year to the next. So what worked in 2011 might be actually getting quite tiresome for some 2016 students. So I have to understand that as well.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds And in fact, it has happened from time to time, where I’ve had to flick a switch and think, hold on a minute, what I think is working is probably not reaching everyone in the same way anymore. So let’s modify, let’s work it through, let’s evolve. One of the things that I’ve done with all the courses that I’ve designed in this blended format is not to do too much at the same time. So each year, we’ve done a little bit and changed things or tweaked things or developed a different aspect. So when we first started, it was just about putting some adaptive tutorials on.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds But as we’ve gone through the different years in an iterative process, we’ve built this blended learning course structure that really is designed around our students and getting them to learn and catering for the diversity that we have. Whenever I design something, I try to design it with some kind of evaluation component in it, and through that evaluation component to get students’ feedback on a whole range of things around that activity. It may be simple things like whether it just was intuitive to them to navigate and those kind of things. But also about how effective it was for learning.

Skip to 3 minutes and 43 seconds And I think especially for international students, sometimes getting them over the line is more about making the language accessible to them, just because medicine this way, right, there’s a whole different language that is coming to them. And they’re getting used to English plus this other language. So it’s really important to make sure that we explain things as simply as we can for them.

Considerations for designing courses

By the time your first class starts, much of the success or failure of your course will already be determined by your course design!

You should already have addressed the main design questions: - what the students will learn - what activities, assignments and interactions will engage and motivate that learning - how the learning outcomes are assessed.

Today, good design for higher education courses is gaining much research attention, to help increase student success and reduce attrition. Research suggests there are six guidelines that contribute to the success in introductory courses:

  • Provide a structure for the course that guides students in their active learning
  • Provide enough time for tasks and enforce deadlines
  • Reward students for their efforts
  • Provide regular assessment of progress
  • Accommodate diverse styles
  • Stay in touch (Thiel, Petermen & Brown, 2008)

In this video (4:09) you will hear from UNSW academics who identify factors influencing their course design, including:

  • affordances of the physical spaces available for the course / class delivery
  • consideration of the needs of the current student cohort which may differ to previous class cohorts
  • consciously making minor iterative changes to course design, in order to measure the success or otherwise of the change
  • incorporating feedback at regular intervals of the course offering
  • providing sufficient support for a diverse student cohort

Academics in context

Information about the academic staff in this video and their professional contexts may be found in the Academics in context document.

Reflection point

As you listen to the academics speak keep a record, as part of your ePortfolio, of any factor which resonates with your own experience.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on considerations for designing courses there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.


Thiel, T., Peterman, S., and Brown, M. (2008). Assessing the crisis in college mathematics: Designing courses for student success. Change (July-August), 44-49

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Educational Design in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney