Course Design in practice

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending the day with Head of Business School, Jeremy Richards to go through the course design process for one of the modules on the new Leasing and Asset Finance, MA.

lego building blocks

This kind of course design can be described as a course or learning design retreat. It is a day, or two depending on requirements, where the teaching team can get away from their desks and the distractions of the day to day. With support from a range of specialist staff they build or re-design taught modules by working through learning design activities which focus on elements of the module; all building up to a storyboard, an action plan and some prototype learning activities.

In practice, Jeremy found that the first stages of the process worked well, and helped to either re-define, refine, or solidify ideas that have been thought of before the workshop. We were building a module that had already been validated so were limited in terms of things could we change ie. learning outcomes, assessment weightings etc.

First of all we worked through the ‘Mission Statement’ part of the process where Jeremy boiled down into a couple of sentences what the overall aim of the module is. Doing this helps to focus the mind on the essential aspects without getting caught up with the details.

Next up, we jumped straight into an activity to think about how the module will be run, and what the main ethos, or the main ‘look and feel’ of it is. We did this by going through the Jisc / Open University Learning Design Initiative card sort activity where we sorted the cards into three piles; the ‘yes’, the ‘maybe’, and the ‘no’ piles. The idea is to decide if the wording on the card is something to include in the design of the module, or not. Once we had the three piles, we were ruthless and narrowed it down to 6 ‘must haves’. You can also create your own cards if there isn’t one that describes something you need.


This activity:

  • enables the teaching team to work towards a consensus on the type of learning experience they want to create
  • provides a common language to help talk about how they like to teach – particularly for teaching strategies that are based on more of a tacit experience. Sorting the cards stimulates discussion about them: what do you mean by …? how does that work? why is that the best approach? This discussion is useful for skill sharing and ideas for personal development, as well as narrowing down the most effective approaches for the context.
  • brings the learners into the heart of the conversation, as choices need to be made about what learning approaches they might use, and what kinds of support they might need.
  • helps to ensure that the team are considering all the elements that make up a balanced module.

Next up comes ‘constructive alignment and backwards design’. The idea behind this stage is to jump to the end of the module, or stage within the module, and think about what it is that you’re aiming for the student to have achieved, how they might get to that point, and what knowledge they need to have or gain to get there. This focuses the mind on the aims and outcomes of the module, and how the team will help the students achieve them, whilst starting to flesh out the initial vision for the module into a more structured pathway.

The first building block in this stage focuses on the learning outcomes for the module. The learning outcomes can be considered the most important element of the module as they define the parameters of what will be covered, help the student to understand what’s expected, and what will be assessed.

Because the learning outcomes had already been validated for this module we were very limited in terms of what could change, so we had a chat about them and made sure they’re set at the correct level, and the language and relation to assessment is appropriate in relation to the previous tasks above. If the outcomes had not already been validated then this is where we would spend time designing them. Bloom’s taxonomy action verbs come in handy when deciding on appropriate language to describe the level at which the students need to work.

Next up, we went through the assessment design stage. Assessment tasks are designed in relation to the learning outcomes above and the look and feel. We talked about the ways in which we do and do not want to assess the students, the kinds of attitudes and behaviour the assessment should encourage eg. leadership, risk-taking, and then how self and peer assessment will be build in. At this point we also thought about how technology will be used to facilitate the tasks.

The Storyboarding activity is fun and engaging and can often be the one element that takes the most time. This was certainly the case with the Leasing and Asset Finance module we were working on. We used flip chart paper and post-its to create a timeline of the module, mainly focusing on it from the point of view of the student. We thought about how the module should be broken down and what the main aims of each element of it should be. Then we started populating the timeline (using different coloured post-it notes) with activities, resources, tutor responsibilities and assessment points to create a holistic overview. From this you get a sense of the workload and are able to move the post-its around to plan contact time and make sure that appropriate time is allocated to a more complicated element of learning, for example.

stack of post-its

The main aims of storyboarding out a module are around sequencing, alignment and coherence by mapping out the themes, learning activities and assessment items – what students need to know, how they will learn it, and how they will show that they have learned it (that constructive alignment idea again!). The idea is to create a logical sequence of activity, or learning journey, that allows the student to build knowledge, skills and understanding so that they can be demonstrated through assessment. We then look in detail how that learning might happen, and what kinds of activities can be put in place to support it.

This is as far as we have got up until now so the next stages will come later. We will start to work on the learning activities themselves. Are they activities that can or should happen inside or outside the classroom; online or face to face; will technology be used to facilitate them? – it’s important to incorporate technology into your teaching to develop digital capabilities/literacies. EdTech can help with this as it’s important to remember that part of this process to develop your skills as well! So, we will build at least one online activity in Learning Space in the session so that expertise in the room is used to support its development, and there will be an activity that can be used in the actual delivery of the module.

We will also develop an action plan to plan out the development of the rest of the activities and the delivery of them.

We’re looking forward to it!

Get in touch with us if you would like to organise a course/learning design session for your course or module.

Lego image source:

Post-its image source:

A Lens on… Inclusivity

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.

This week is World Autism Awareness Week and in deference our lens shifts to Inclusivity and Inclusive Educational Practice. The effects of recent cuts to funding for Disabled Students (DSA) mean that institutions must re-appraise the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that the Equality Act (2010) requires to be be in place.

Inclusivity, by definition, means that everyone regardless of origin, background or ability is included in whatever activity it is that is being delivered. So, inclusive practice is about making sure that technology is used to create activities and materials that everyone can access and make use of. But it is also about using pedagogical techniques that ensure everyone can get involved and their contributions are valued equally, whilst making the most of individual strengths for the benefit of the whole group.

Inclusive practice within teaching may include providing online course content in a variety of formats and making this accessible on a variety of devices. The Open University have recently implemented a system to present VLE content in accessible formats and tools such as Gitbook facilitate publishing material in web, pdf and ebook formats. You might also find our post on re-designing learning content for online delivery useful in this regard.

Where large amounts of text are used, Educators might consider a screen capture using Snagit or an audio recording with Vocaroo. A transcript should also be provided and for video, services like Youtube and Vimeo provide automated closed captioning. For presentations, recording a Movenote to accompany the powerpoint will enable students to refer back to the lecture material and you might encourage your students to make use of tools like Cogi to record their own notes.

The JISC/NUS Digital Experience Benchmarking Tool provides examples of institutional inclusive practice that ranges from ‘developing to ‘outstanding’.

Key to an ‘outstanding’ institutional approach is to involve students with a diverse set of needs in developing the digital environment and that all technological investments consider the impact on access, inclusion and equality.

JISC have also published some helpful guides on getting started with accessibility and providing an inclusive HE experience. The inclusive HE would; ensure that lecture/seminar materials are available online prior to the lecture, provide an institutional means of lecture capture, support students in note taking and in their own lecture capture and provide policy on the creation of learning materials and accessibility standards.

Many universities have already made progress in promoting inclusion, Oxford Brooks, Plymouth University and the University of Sheffield are just some of the institutions who have provided guidance for staff to help develop better academic practice in this area.

At Falmouth, the team are working with our BA (Hons) Business Entrepreneurship staff and students to reimagine large text resources, traditionally given as core reading. Learners are co-creating video, audio and interactive images formats that make the learning more accessible and facilitate development of new skills in media production.

Accessibility is also a core consideration for Moodle, the software behind Falmouth’s Learning Space and the Moodle community publish information on how the platform meets particular global standards for access and inclusion. Birmingham City University have also added some guidelines for accessible Moodle courses.

If you are interested in developing your inclusive digital practice, please check out our good practice principles from this IDPD post and contact the team.

Further Reading

What equality law means for you as an education provider – further and higher education (2010) Equality and Human Rights Commission

Bhagat, D & O’Neill, P (2011) Inclusive Practices, Inclusive Pedagogies: Learning from Widening Participation Research in Art & Design Higher Education CHEAD/ Ukadia Croydon

Inclusive curriculum design in higher education (2011) – Higher Education Academy

Exemplars of inclusive digital practice from the JISC Digital Student Project (2015)

A Lens On… Flipped Learning

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.

The flipped classroom is not a new method for learning, and actually refers to techniques that have been used for a while now. You may or may not realise that you’re using these techniques in your teaching. If you’re not, then the best reason for adopting a flipped approach to teaching and learning is that it offers pedagogical advantages. Within this post I am going to focus on a few different ways that learning can be flipped.

Knowledge transfer → knowledge assimilation, and just in time teaching


CC-BY-NC 2.0 licensed image by Derek Bruff

From the image you can see that Mazur proposes is that knowledge transfer should be covered prior to attending class, and that the class time be used to help students assimilate what they have read or watched prior to coming to class. The ‘flip’ is simply that knowledge transfer happens outside class, and knowledge assimilation happens in class.

Mazur puts emphasis on the assimilation of knowledge within the classroom through peer interactions. Content and readings that the students need to receive are disseminated prior to a class based session and students are expected to engage in that transfer of knowledge. Within the class he then poses questions and problems and polls students on their answers (so they commit to an opinion). Once that is done the students discuss between them and the ones that understand articulate it to the others. The questions and problems that are asked during the class time are usually based on results of quizzes that students are asked to complete before the lecture. This type of learning is referred to as ‘just in time’ teaching as the schedule and questions for the class session are often not determined until very close to its delivery.

Blending ‘just in time’ teaching and peer instruction are not the only approaches, and whilst there is no one correct way of doing things it’s probably safe to say that an approach which sees the students actively engaged in class, rather than passive, is likely to lead to them learning more. A visual idea of how the flipped classroom could work based on the above, is given below:


Farmer, 2015

This brings me onto Experiential Learning. This certainly isn’t a new idea, and was first talked about in the early 1900’s by John Dewey:

“The Teacher and the book are no longer the only instructors; the hands, the eyes, the ears, in fact the whole body, become sources of information, while teacher and textbook become respectively the starter and the tester.  No book or map is a substitute for personal experience; they cannot take the place of the actual journey”  (Dewey, 1915, p74).

Fast forward 100 years, and the same things are being discussed, just in a slightly different contexts. Technology is now part of the delivery of a flipped environment, using tools to engage the learner with materials and activities outside of the classroom, allow synchronous and asynchronous discourse, and acquire knowledge.

There is a lot of overlap in the phrases used for things like experiential, active and flipped learning. There are differences, but the general consensus is that getting students to access content and engage in activities designed to develop their understanding before class, and then using the class time to discuss and engage in depth brings issues, ideas and questions to the surface. The pre-class content and activities develops their knowledge and understanding more effectively when discussed and reflected on in class (Farmer, 2015).

Flipped learning offers the best of both online and face to face learning. In a similar vain to the message in the Lens on… Blended Learning post a while back, flipped learning should offer a seamless transition between the students’ own learning environment and the classroom. Each should compliment the other, with purpose and meaning being paramount. Students should be able to have the opportunity to experiment with ideas to learn through doing, in a supported environment where they learn from everything they do, apply their knowledge into problem solving, and assimilate their knowledge to develop it into concrete experience (Kolb, 1984).

Whilst researching for this blog post, what I didn’t find is much research about flipped learning in arts and creative subjects. There is a lot of information about the marked improvement of results and performance in science, technology, engineering and maths areas. It would be interesting to work up reasoning behind the lack of literature around flipped learning for creative subjects: is it because the nature of these disciplines is already experiential, and active? Engagement within a class environment is participative, and less didactic?

Educational Technology are very interested in learning more about how you engage your students inside and outside the classroom. Do you encourage a dynamic environment within your teaching spaces? How do you think it improves what you do and how your students learn?

Comment below or get in touch to tell us more 🙂


Dewey, J., Dewey, E. (1915) Schools of To-morrow. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company.

Farmer, R., (2015) ‘What is the Flipped Classroom?’. LearnTech blog, [blog] 16 Jan 2015, Available at: Accessed [24 March 2016].

Kolb, D. A., (1984) Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

A Lens On… Course Design

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.

Designing a course or module that encompasses and considers activities and aspects beyond your subject is a task that is required of academics. Bringing in elements of digital interactions with your students is expected: students are arriving at University with wide ranging digital practices. The Institution requires that part of your course is delivered in a blended or online fashion.

According to the King’s College London/QAA Student Expectations and Perceptions of Higher Education report (Kandiko & Mawer, 2013) students prefer adequate face to face time, and institutions are urged to be cautious in their implementation of technology as a tool to replace face to face interactions.

The report also says that “no students mentioned pedagogical uses of digital technologies” and that students perception of technology in their academic lives is simply a means to access information. This is rather a contradiction to what perceptions we have of students when they arrive at University, and to what some researchers of effective pedagogies have said (check out Re-thinking pedagogy for the digital age, Beetham & Sharpe, 2013)

When you really think about it though, if technology is used well then it is not viewed as a separate element of the students’ learning journey. If it is used as part of that journey (an embedded, invisible practice) – instead of something that sits alongside or even outside of the delivery of learning – then technology can be a tool to enhance what students are achieving, rather than as an annoyance that limits their attention on subject and forces focus to remain on the process of using it.

By following a course design process that facilitates:

  • innovative practice, both digitally and physically
  • flexible, seamless transition between the physical and digital space
  • recording the learning journey to allow for informed reflection
  • constructive alignment of materials, outcomes and assessment


  • both physical and digital interactions that transcend their platform

it will enhance your practice and your students’ learning.


Image source:

Course design processes exist in many HEIs (e.g. Oxford Brookes, Northampton, Ulster, Leicester) and are successfully participated in to create some great programmes of study. Most are based around a team based approach that enables the teaching team to work with facilitators, support staff, and students to build a course/module that includes all the elements mentioned above. The great thing about them is that because the processes are not subject specific, a consistent experience can be created.

The processes are pure design – it is down to the subject specialists to decide what direction they take. Constructive alignment, interactions (both online and face to face) and assessment can be scaffolded using planning and storyboarding techniques. Materials and delivery are designed alongside librarians, technologists, students and technicians.

It’s no secret that the EdTech team have experience in pedagogic design and its integration of technology. We can facilitate the course design processes and are happy to help with the design of your module. Get in touch to learn more.

A Lens On… Learning Analytics

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and various projects being undertaken within the sector.


Learning Analytics utilises the data that passes through University systems and can be used as a powerful tool for learning about students and their achievements. It is used to collect data to measure learning and the contexts in which learning takes place. This data is then analysed and put to use to optimise interactions and opportunities; improving engagement, experiences and ultimately results.

It cannot be as simple as throwing data into some predictive software and asking it to tell you what it thinks though; analysts/experts are best placed to interpret the data, who know what they’re looking for, and align results with the institutional, teaching and student priorities.

An example of analysing an element of learning is measuring engagement. Overall there are three levels that can be measured.

Students who are behaviourally engaged would typically comply with behavioural norms, such as attendance and involvement, and would demonstrate the absence of disruptive or negative behaviour.

Behavioural engagement can be measured by recording attendance at face to face sessions and access to online materials. This can be relatively easy to achieve as long as the monitoring tools are in place.

Students who engage emotionally would experience affective reactions such as interest, enjoyment, or a sense of belonging

Emotional engagement is more difficult to measure. Some activities that facilitate tracking include online discussion, interactive activities

Cognitively engaged students would be invested in their learning, would seek to go beyond the requirements, and would relish challenge

Cognitive engagement is even more difficult to measure. Extra curricular activities and ‘extra credit’ work can shed some light…

Activities, systems and mechanisms need to be in place to ensure that the right level of analytics can be performed, and measurements can be determined. This is why smaller pilots should be carried out with tasks designed with analytics in mind; so that settings and specifications can be refined.

There are other reasons to implement Learning Analytics including (but not limited to):

  • Identify students at risk so as to provide positive interventions designed to improve retention.
  • Provide recommendations to students in relation to reading material and learning activities.
  • Detect the need for, and measure the results of, pedagogic improvements.
  • Tailor course offerings.
  • Identify teachers who are performing well, and teachers who need assistance with teaching methods.
  • Assist in the student recruitment process.

Jisc cetis Analytics Series (2012)

Learning analytics has a strong link with pedagogy, and consideration needs to be taken into how the institution would like to improve pedagogically, and consider the method of implementation of a learning analytics process to ensure that it will not hinder, but enhance the direction of its learning and teaching strategy.

The sector has looked at learning analytics over the last few years as a tool to achieve better experiences for students. The realities of using the huge amount of data that institutions collect is shrouded in ethical and legal issues but luckily, the good folks over at Jisc have done a lot of the leg work and developed a Code of Practice for learning analytics as part of their ongoing Effective Learning Analytics project. This code of practice is in place to advise UK HEIs about the legal and ethical considerations that need to be included in the implementation of a learning analytics strategy.

See some of Team ET’s previous work on Learning Analytics with the Jisc Learning Analytics Network and its pre-project work.

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