Design Principles: steps in the design process (3.1)

Design Principles: steps in the design process (3.1)

Designing a good course requires a  number

of steps. 

First decide on the course you want to teach and

the conceptual goals you have for that learning experience. 

After that, you can use these goals to develop the modules or segments of the course.  


Each segment contains certain activities that support the learning and relevant assignments can be developed at this stage.  Finally, student assessment and course evaluation have to be developed. 

The next section of this resource takes you through each of these phases in turn.

1. Planning your course. 

Generally, when starting out teaching with technology, it is a good idea to choose a course you enjoy teaching and have taught face-to-face.  Also, don’t take on too much at once, instead try one technology at a time until you are comfortable using it in an instructional setting.  For example, you might start out using just conferencing for the class discussion and most activities with email as a backup for individual communications.

2. Identifying modules from major concepts.

    1. For each possible module, identify a number of learning experiences that could support the learning (e.g. reading and answering questions; developing questions about a text; reading each other’s work and offering suggestions; directed activities like finding and reviewing relevant information on the web; small group projects.  The table below contains a number of suggestions for different kinds of online learning activities. Organize the main sections of the course around the most important concepts (big ideas) you want to have students take away with them.  You may have about 8 to 10 of these in a typical one semester course.
    2. For each one, identify the relevant documentary and other material needed for that concept. In the table below I have used an example of a course I taught to illustrate these design steps.  The course was about using learning technologies to promote deep learning in schools.

Chart Showing learning goals and assignments for building knowledge through technology

Sections/Weeks/Topics of the Course

Intro to Technology

Key  features of a collaborative learning


Directed exercises to learn the
different functions in context

Completing a biography; and other activities
 designed to try out a range of functionality.

Comparing different learning

Technologies can embody within
them different learning approaches


Reading about different classroom based learning technologies and comparing across specified dimensions Discussion entries about an initial
different people responsible for
summary or commentary on each
Personal Knowledge Building

Experiencing process of self-directed
learning to understand learners perspective


Go through iterations in research
process starting with what you know, and ending with further questions still
unanswered. Circle not a line

Choosing one of two problems to
investigate deeply and complete a

research cycle.

Issues in Implementing
collaborative technologies

Technology can
change teacher’s role; classroom
culture needs to reflect the online learning approach


Reading about and identifying key
issues on changes in teachers’ experiences and practical strategies to
promote constructive
Discussion entries about an
question applied to own teaching
What does technology afford us?

Creates bias
towards particular views of learning; need to
balance computer use w/access issue


Debate on issue of equity around
technology following relevant readings.
Contributing at least one point
on each side of the debate

Assessment needs to reflect the
learning approach of the course if it to accurately tap learning growth.


Considering different assessment
strategies and how they apply in own classroom setting
Learning Logs: individual or group. 
Entries for each issue.
Ends with “Where are
Curriculum Design

The principles of knowledge
building are useable and can be integrated into classroom learning


through integrating and applying ideas from the whole course.
Complete a curriculum unit
design with specific steps
either collaboratively or alone.

3. Creating the structure.

Use the structure developed in the planning steps to organize the course modules or sections. Each of these top-level ideas could be a sub-conference and then more sub-conferences can be added within each particular module conference to organize the learning activities. 

4. Developing an orientation to the course.

Provide a clear orientation for students to the elements of both technology and learning needed in the course.  These include:

      1. A Welcome. This introduces the faculty member and the course to the students.  Make the tone informal and welcoming, but clear.
      2. Contact information.
      3. Course overview and objectives. This should also be an entry in the electronic discussion).  Readings and materials.
      4. Learning activities. This describes what students will be doing during the course (reading and making entries in response to questions and to other class members; sharing ideas and working in small groups through email and electronic discussion; finding information relevant to the course on the Internet etc).
      5. Evaluations. How students will be evaluated.
      6. Instructor expectations for student involvement and contributions.  For example, a basic expectation involves online time, and that they will spend at least 4 hours online per week reading and writing.  Another expectation is how they will interact with peers, and that they will respond appropriately and constructively to the entries of their classmates, with a spirit of  “constructive criticism”.  Yet another is the level of formality in the course, whether all entries should be spell-checked, or just ones that are submitted as assignments.
      7. Course schedule.  All the due dates and activities, including readings assignments, tests or quizzes, projects and group activities.
      8. Next steps.  What things the students should do next, such as going to the Welcome view and reading about how to use the system, adding their biography or email to the shared database and so on.

5. Developing and linking learning goals to instructional strategies

Instructional activities. In the table below you can see some common instructional activities and examples of parallel online activities.  You can use these to think about which activities best support the key ideas identified for each module.

instructional activity
Parallel or similar
online instructional activity
Lecture 1. Course notes as a Webpage or PDF file that can be downloaded and printed off or read online. 
2. Videos –either on the web or instructor developed
Class discussion Whole group is asked to respond to an issue or question by using replies/build-ons. Additionally, they are asked to read others’ responses and take those ideas into account in their own contributions. (Stops list of entries with the same content because they didn’t read (=listen) to the others.
Debate Debate as an online discussion with responses marked pro/con. Could set them up as teams ahead of time, or require people to post at least one or more points on each side.
Rotating moderator or discussion
Responsibility for leading, moderating and summarizing the week’s discussion on an issue is passed around the class.  Promotes leadership and commitment.
Case Study Relevant material about a case can be posted with a set of questions or steps required for a response. Students benefit from seeing and responding to other’s interpretations.  Time constraints can be introduced to ensure everyone participates in a timely way.
Self-directed learning This can be an online or book based research or applied activity, the outcome of which can be posted to the shared discussion or directly to the instructor.  Allows the pursuit of independent interests.  The more it is shared the more others benefit from exposure to other ideas.
Mentoring Pairing more or less or differently-experienced people to acts as support across a course or for a particular assignment or section. 
Increases a sense of community and belonging, as well as distributing expertise. 
Guest lecturer This works particularly well online.  You can convince colleagues in distant places to spend a few hours online over the course of a week responding to your students.  Students can react to a paper or a article or an idea from the guest lecturer, which is itself posted to the database, and the guest can react to their commentary and answer questions.
Small group discussion Groups self assigned, or by the instructor discuss issue by email or within a folder or View in the course area. Collaborate on a summary of the group’s understanding.
Small group project Again, some discussion can be via email or synchronous chat facility.  Group planning helps each person decide on relevant information to contribute and final assignment can be co-authored in the class discussion area.

Don’t forget also that there are a number of other, technology-based opportunities for learning. These include virtual visits and tours through the internet (to museums, art galleries and the like); simulations of scientific and mathematics concepts and a variety of software and online materials in a lot of different content areas.