Visual Course Design

Close up of sticky notes being used for course design.

Designing the scope and sequence to learning activities for a new course can be a challenging process. In the early stages of course design, my brain is full ideas and concepts for learning activities, possible readings and resources to assign, and presentation techniques I might use.  It can be difficult to get that jumble of ideas into a meaningful course structure while trying to maintain a good balance of work for my students and me during the term.  Until recently, I would rough out the scope and sequence for a new course in a word processor as a part of writing my syllabus, but I’ve been finding that the building the first draft in a word processor makes it difficult to make quick changes. Additionally, at the early stages of course design, I am trying to form connections between concepts and ideas and drafting in the word processor forces a linearity to my thinking that makes it harder to see those connections. To better get the ideas out of my head and into a place where I can work with them to build connections, I have recently been using a visual method to help me sort out all of the pieces of a new course in the early stages of the design process.

On a stickFoam core and sticky notes used for course planningy-note, I write out a number for each week of the term and attach them to a large piece of foam core. These help me see the calendar constraints for my course.

Using different colored sticky notes, I write out the weekly activities, assignments, and student projects and add them to the board under the number of the week that the activities will take place. I write out topic and content themes for the assignments. The theme notes help me to develop a thematic progression through the units.  I will also make notes, either on the board or somewhere else, about the amount of time I expect students to work on the assignments or projects.

On other sticky notes, I write out the reading selections, noting the main themes of the reading and the page quantity for the selection.  The theme notes help me to match reading and assignment themes. The page numbers help me create a balanced work load through the weeks of the term.

Having the entire semester of assignments and activities posted on a single board helps me to see the flow of the course in a way I can’t when the schedule is spread over multiple pages in a document. The large format helps me to make connections on unit structures and themes and to quickly see if the work load is spread evenly through each week of the term. If I want to make a change, it is fast and easy to move notes around the board or to write out a new note. Once I feel I have a good scope and sequence developed, I write out the schedule in my syllabus, make final adjustments, and add the information to my course in the LMS. By using an analog visual structure for drafting the scope and sequence of a new course I find it easier to get the jumble of ideas out of my head and into a space where I can easily move them around to form a coherent course design that has good thematic flow and a balanced work load for students.


5 Comments on “Visual Course Design”

  1. Murphy Pizza says:

    This is a great strategy! I may give employing this a try…

    There appears to be a trend – at least in the online pedagogy worlds I’m moving through — toward multiple learning modalities per unit or lesson, This notion that no one will sit still through one lecture or one big assignment has led to really interesting experiments in multiple learning strategies… but also a lot of very complicated planning, maybe overly fussy…? Do you find that this strategy helps keep activities-per-module at a sensible level? Or do you find that it actually reveals spaces in pedagogy that need filling?….

    • Ryan Torma says:

      I’ve been finding that I have some units that are over-full and others that are under-developed. This method is helping me see both so I can work to even out the work load and to fully develop units and themes.

  2. hessma says:

    I think Scrivener might be a nice digital tool for doing this.

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