No matter what, where, or how you teach, you already redesign your courses constantly on some level, whether you realize it or not. Is it necessary as educators for us to constantly re-do, re-write, and review what we are doing, or is it merely an exercise in futility? Does it make a difference or just make us feel better?
I would argue that the redesign of courses is not only necessary, it is imperative to the success of those we are teaching, to our own success, and to the preservation of our disciplines. Universally, we redesign to improve. This is the main motivation. We want to do better!
With the discovery of new tools and resources, we begin to see if there has been a lack of effectiveness in the way we’ve been going about things. Changes at the program, department, and even at the university level can also illustrate the necessity of seeking out new horizons. Redesign can feel like a nuisance, but it is SO NECESSARY, particularly as we settle in to our own “new normal,” socially distant, post-COVID, digital-native world.
Right now, making sure instruction is meeting the needs of the course, the student, and the context of our world has never been more important. We must allow for sufficient time on task for students, have a way to adequately monitor their progress, deliver ongoing assessment with prompt feedback, and provide students with individualized assistance.
How to Start Thinking About Course Redesign
To achieve adequate redesign and meaningful improvement, we need to look at and think about a variety of components.
First and foremost, we need to consider student evaluations. Arguments can be made that student evaluations are arbitrary, that the ones who submit them are exceptionally happy or angry. I tend to agree; however, who better to hear from? If I am speaking to a group of people, I want to hear from the ones who are inspired and the ones who I have stirred up! I don’t want to hear from the ones who are indifferent, neither shaken nor stirred. I want to see the evaluations of those I have moved most in one way or another, and the accompanying rationale. Reason can be applied, data can be compared, and I can glean valuable feedback from the folks that are offering criticism, constructive or otherwise. Student evaluations are a great place to start.
Secondly, we need to speak to our program director to get an idea of what is happening across the board in our courses. Are there certain phenomena that our colleagues are seeing as well in the same courses but different sections? Can some changes be applied globally? If so, how can we work together to decide on and administer necessary changes that will benefit the program overall and thus have the most positive effects possible for all involved, from students to administration?
That leads us into another vital practice: peer observation. This is two-fold. We should be observed by our colleagues, and we should observe them. How many times have you seen or heard something else someone is doing and thought “How effective!” or “Why didn’t I think of that?” It is that simple. Having a non-course participant visit our classes to observe our methods and strategies can play a crucial role in the improvement of our curricula and thereby future redesign. Observing our colleagues to gain renewed perspective is also paramount to successful redesign and improvement. It leads to innovative change and enthusiasm within ourselves as it relates to our goals and philosophies as teachers.
Also, use the resources and expertise provided by all faculty support entities at your university. For example, my institution offers the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning, an office that provides extensive assistance and the means by which to make constant, contemporary and cutting-edge changes to our courses as well as to our teaching. One such example of a program they offer is the SCOT program (Student Consultants on Teaching). These are trained graduate or undergraduate students who can offer a unique perspective on your course. It is important to note they are not enrolled in the class on which they provide feedback. These students are dedicated to improving teaching and learning, doing everything from face-to-face or online observations to conducting focus groups with the students in your course. Explore your own university and find the offices and people that dedicate themselves to pedagogical upkeep and maintenance!
Finally, nothing can ever take the place of our own experience in the classroom! We are the leaders in our classroom, no matter the methodology or modality in use. We can read our students, and we know what is and isn’t working. Draw from all those mental notes that you have taken over time.
My Course Redesign Experience
Keep in mind you don’t have to do all this at once. When I first began to redesign two of my own courses, it was one part intrigue and two parts publisher fatigue. I was tired of the canned Spanish delivered in the traditional textbooks I had been teaching with for 15 years. I desperately wanted something fresh and new. So did my students, based on the goals for my course shared via the survey I administered at the onset of the semester.
Seeing a demo of an adaptive learning platform convinced me to take a little bite. I tested a few changes initially and got a lot of great feedback. A year later, I had successfully redesigned my Elementary Spanish I & II courses, delivering them via the adaptive system and using 100% OER (open education resources) content. Now, two years later, my redesigned courses are being reviewed and edited by a content expert as we continue to improve the courses and share best practices within our department.
My course redesign has addressed virtually all of the former frustrations, issues, and challenges I had with my courses and their content. No longer am I having the same issues and conversations revolving around publisher content and platforms. No longer are students complaining about course content and the technology. I have been able to achieve so many things, including (but not limited to):
- Making a gradual shift in modalities, from face-to-face to hybrid to online, considering carefully what needed to be transformed and replaced
- Finding the best way to share my expertise
- Improving course alignment and engagement with student learning outcomes and objectives
- Expanding my social presence and learning community factors, especially in the online environment
- Enriching the course content and its real-world application
- Providing more options for creativity and active learning
- Drawing connections between the course and the real world while helping students do the same
Redesign doesn’t have to involve the entire course, but many times starting with smaller changes can lead to a broader overhaul. If we paint one room of our house, the rest of it can start to look like it needs freshening up as well, right? Keep in mind that you might be the first person trying something like this – give yourself room for trial and error, all the while considering the first five points I shared above.
Listen to your intuition, go with your gut, and lean into your own understanding in order to assess and implement successful redesign!
Kacie Tartt is Associate Instructor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, where she teaches Spanish. She is co-faculty leader of the Journey Cuba study abroad program and faculty leader of Cuba: History, Culture, and Society during Summer A. At UCF she helped co-found and currently co-directs the UCF-Hillcrest Foreign Language Club in addition to organizing the weekly MLL Game Day. She also works hand-in-hand with CDL to further distance learning initiatives within the Spanish lower division at the university, most recently exploring Adaptive Learning methods and technology within her discipline.