When you define the course goals, focus on student learning. One way to formulate these goals is to determine what students should be learning in terms of content, cognitive development, and personal development. Be as specific as you can and make sure that the goals define learning in ways that can be measured. Consider the following questions:
In addition, you should learn about the students who typically take the course (their level of preparation, their majors or academic interests, etc.) in order to think about how your course will help this group of students build their knowledge and understanding of the topic.
Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) provides a helpful framework for identifying the observable and measurable skills you would like your students to learn. As the following table shows, Bloom identified six types of cognitive processes and ordered these according to the increasing level of complexity involved: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. This table links these processes to representative skills, as well as verbs you might use when defining course goals, developing teaching methods, designing assignments and exams, and composing questions to use in class.
Below is an example of a list of course goals, as developed for a General Chemistry course. (At Washington University, General Chemistry is a foundational course for several scientific disciplines; it attracts mainly first-year students who were in the top one percent of their high-school classes and whose academic interests represent a variety of disciplines.)
General Chemistry: Course Goals
You can choose to organize the topics in a variety of ways, whether chronological, topical, conceptual, survey-oriented, or process-oriented. Think about how the structure of the course will contribute to student learning. Ask questions such as the following:
If you are compiling a course reader, consider copyright issues (see the University’s guideline on copyright and fair use). If you need to obtain permission to reprint or otherwise use published material, allow at least 3 months to complete the process. Keep in mind that some publishers now offer faculty the option of creating custom readers, for which the publisher has already obtained the necessary permissions. You can also use commercial copyright clearance services.
As you plan and revise courses, remember the importance of teaching core concepts and critical-thinking skills. Focusing only on content can quickly lead you to over-emphasize knowledge-based skills and to ignore the teaching of the higher-level thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Bloom, Benjamin (ed). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Vol. 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: McKay, 1956.
Davis, Barbara Gross. “Preparing or Revising a Course.” Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993. http://teaching.berkeley.edu/bgd/prepare.html.
McKeachie, Wilbert, et al. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. 12th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
“Planning Your Course: A Decision Guide.” Center for Learning and Teaching, Cornell University. http://www.cte.cornell.edu/documents/Course%20Decisions%20Guide.pdf
Stout, Julie. “Radical Course Revision: A Case Study.” National Teaching and Learning Forum 10(4). May 2001.
Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998.
© 2009, The Teaching Center, Washington University in St. Louis