Information that assists in producing a well-designed course.

Course Design

Good course design is an important part of any class. Teaching often presents special challenges, but also provides opportunity for broadening student horizons, incorporating diverse learning materials, and tailoring information to the individual. On this page we have collected information that will assist you in producing a well designed course. 


Online Teaching and Learning Faculty Learning Community

Instructional Design Support 

Course Design as a Process

Course Maintenance

Course Evaluation


This section will explore some fundamental concepts and considerations when preparing instructional material. For those who would like a little more guidance, we suggest you review the Instructional Design Support page and meet with the Instructional Design Team.




Online Teaching and Learning Faculty Learning Community

January 23 – May 7, 2020
Led by Dr. Melissa Vosen Callens

In this faculty learning community, you will examine key concepts and pedagogical issues related to online learning. Develop and/or revise an online course, selecting appropriate instructional strategies and technologies.

The primary reading is Teaching Online  by Claire Howell Major.

This faculty learning community meets from 1 to 2 p.m. on the following dates:

  • January 23
  • February 13
  • March 5
  • March 26
  • April 16
  • May 7

All faculty, instructional staff, and graduate students are invited to participate. Space is limited to 12 participants. If you are interested in this faculty learning community, register today. The registration link will close when the faculty learning community is full, if you would like to be added to a waitlist or inquire about future offerings, contact Melissa Vosen-Callens.






Assistance and Support

You don't have to go it alone. Every course is unique and the planning and development process includes many steps and considerations. The Office of Teaching and Learning and its affiliated staff offer an array of services to support you, including:

  • Course content planning
  • Technology planning and support
  • Multimedia development services
  • Blackboard and other software training
  • Podcasting and vodcasting assistance
  • Reference and training materials online

We can help you determine what technologies are the best choice for your course and help you prepare. We provide workshops, online support information through this website, and personalized assistance by appointment. 




Course Design as a Process

Offering a new course first starts with planning and design. Instructional design could be defined as the systemic activity of 1) identifying the needs of learners and instructional goals, 2) matching those with an appropriate approach and vehicle for delivering course materials, and 3) the development of the assessments that measure the degree of learning and the quality of the instructional content. 

There are numerous instructional design models from which to choose; the model presented here is based loosely upon the principles of the ADDIE model:

  • Analyze the learner;
  • Design learning objectives and outcomes;
  • Develop instructional materials;
  • Implement, or deliver, the instructional materials; and,
  • Evaluate the quality of learning and instruction.

If you are looking for another instructional design model to compare with, a good site to visit is Carnegie Mellon University's Eberly Center. This site has a user-friendly resource section which includes information on Designing Your Course, Writing a Syllabus, and Teaching Your Course. 

Although each course is unique, there are five general steps to follow. Continue reading to learn about all 5 steps. 


Step 1: Learner Analysis

While all instructional and training materials have a common goal - to impart knowledge to the learner - the target audience and purpose of every project is unique. It is important to focus on the learner from the beginning of any development process. The information should be tailored to the abilities and needs of the learner. Further, consider the purpose of the material.

Addressing the following questions can assist in successful analysis of the learner:

  1. Who is the learner?
    Describe the average person for whom the material is intended. Is that person a homemaker who is learning how to use the computer for the first time or a specialized technician? Careful consideration of the target learner can mean the difference between information that is engaging and helpful, or inappropriate and confusing.
  2. What is the learner's level of pre-existing knowledge about the subject?
    Gear the material to the appropriate knowledge level. Does that person possess a high level of advanced education on the subject or will the material comprise that person's first exposure to the subject? If concepts are new to the learner, more attention to building a foundation for concepts and definition of specific vocabulary will be required.
  3. What is the learner's expected reading level?
    Write to the expected reading level of the learner. Written material designed for children will be less challenging than training material written for practicing doctors. Of course, the use of standardized spelling and grammar is especially key when writing for an audience for whom English is not a native language.
  4. What will the learner gain from the information?
    One good strategy is to develop a detailed outline of the information that is to be covered, prior to course development. This outline can later serve as a guide to keep the content developer on topic and provide a guide for establishing learning outcomes or objectives.
  5. What is the final format of the information?
    Consider carefully how the information will be used or in what form it will be presented to the learner. Will the learner be reading the information on screen, juxtaposed with other media such as images or video? Will the information appear in paragraph form or as bullet points? Is the information the main content of the viewable screen, or is it attached by a link to the main content? Will the content be read aloud by a narrator? It is essential to the success of the development process to carefully consider how the information fits into the project as a whole.

The following passages demonstrate how the same subject matter might be presented to two different target audiences.


Target Audience - 8th Grade Anatomy Student:
Most deaths from heart attacks are caused by ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is the term used to describe the interruption of the normal beat of the heart, which pumps oxygen-rich blood to other parts of the body. When the heart stops beating, other parts of the body begin to starve for oxygen. This oxygen starvation causes injury, especially to the brain. If a heart attack victim can receive emergency medical care quickly, he or she has a very good chance of survival.


Target Audience - Medical Student:
Most deaths from myocardial infarction are the result of ventricular fibrillation. For those patients who receive immediate emergency room medical care, the prognosis exceeds 90%. Delayed mortality will occur in 1% to 10% of cases.


Although these passages cover approximately the same information, the latter is written at a more challenging vocabulary level. Further, the college-level example assumes that the learner is already somewhat familiar with the subject, as the writer makes no attempt to explain the cause-effect relationship.


Step 2: Scope and Sequence

As previously mentioned, one good strategy is to begin with an outline of the entire training series or course. Flesh out the details as much as possible, including section breaks or divisions, main topics and subtopics. This outline can also serve as a guide and a parameter for development of learning objectives. Learning objectives should match the course outline.

Addressing the following questions can assist in successful development of a course outline:

  1. What is the entry point into the subject?
    It will be especially important to take all of the information gained from a learner analysis into consideration. The "beginning" of any course or training program will depend upon the prior expertise of the learner.
  2. How important is this topic/subtopic?
    The goal is to address the inevitable question before it is asked: Why do I have to learn this? The best training and educational programs successfully integrate content with learning objectives and assessment. In such environments, the learner can identify the expectations, can identify what topical ground will be covered, and has a sense of how he or she will be expected to demonstrate learning. If a particular topic is extraneous or if the learner will never be tested on the information, it may not be needed, or belong in a supportive or appendix area of the course. Conversely, if a topic is important, consider formalizing its importance with appropriate learning objectives and assessments.
  3. What is the exit point from the subject?
    As important as beginning a training or subject is the smooth transition out of the course; some options include summarizing the information or providing access to follow-up resources.


Step 3: Developing and Publicizing Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are explicit statements about what the learner is supposed to gain as a result of exposure to the course. Learning objectives should be concise and measurable. Whether stated formally or informally, it is important to identify those goals that you have for your students or trainees. In an online environment, it can be especially helpful to clearly communicate these objectives; these will serve as a both a support and a bar. Students will know what to expect from the content, and students will also know what is expected of them as learners. Additionally, effective objectives can guide curriculum development. 

In general, your learning objectives will be most helpful to you in developing assessments, and most clearly convey your intentions to your students if you use specific, measurable, action words to describe outcomes.


Example Learning Objective: In this lesson, you will learn about the area of regular polygons.

Better Learning Objective: After you complete this lesson, you will be able to calculate the area of a regular polygon when given information about its dimensions.


The word "calculate" in the second example indicates both to you and the learner that he or she will be expected to actively demonstrate mastery of this calculation.

Resources for Developing Effective Objectives:

It is possible that as you develop learning objectives, you may wish to modify your course outline. The converse is also true. Course design is an iterative process; in an effective course, all course elements work together and so it is reasonable to expect that as one aspect of the design takes shape, it will affect the shape of other elements of the course.

Publicizing Learning Objectives
Once learning objectives have been developed, publicizing them can be as simple as listing them in conjunction with each portion of the content as part of an introduction. This site provides an example of one way to publicize your expectations for your students. Here are some others:

  • Provide a non-graded pre-test as an introduction to each content section or unit. The questions will serve as clues to the learner about what topics will be covered and what information the instructor considers important.
  • Garner student input regarding course content options. Ask students to list what they hope to learn about the subject or field. Use a discussion board or chat session to solicit group interaction. Incorporate these expectations into the course design and tell students which suggestions will specifically be addressed.


Step 4: Selecting the Mode of Delivery

Powerpoint presentation or text on screen? Audio narration or printed words? Animation or slide show? Once you have clarified the course outline and developed learning objectives, production of actual course products can begin. How you plan to distribute the information will determine how you develop the information.

Use these questions as a guide for determining what mode of delivery is best for your course:

  1. How independently will learners make use of the information?
    The more oversight of the course and student activity you as the instructor plan to provide, the less automated the software and course site will need to be. Conversely, the less human involvement and oversight you plan to incorporate into the course site, the more independently learners will work, and the more automated the course software will need to be. In this latter case, the software will need to take the place of the instructor; all of the teaching elements will need to be provided by the system. Consider this continuum of delivery complexity, as pictured below.
  2. What are the technological needs and limitations of the learners?
    The answer to this question may warrant a revisitation of your learner analysis. For most course media considerations, this will largely come down to the quality of Internet access and the limits of the personal computer afforded to the average learner in your course. Those with high quality Internet access and well-equipped computers will generally be able to participate in media-intensive course information, including streaming audio, video and interactive communication sessions. By contrast, if the average course participant will be accessing the course website through a standard phone line, streaming audio or video may not be feasible. In such a scenario, it may be optimal to provide course media on a CD or DVD that is provided by mail to learners prior to accessing the course site.

    As important, don't forget to account for course accessibility to those with disabilities. For example, those with hearing impairment cannot consume audio content as readily. Couple images and sound with descriptive text-based information to fill in any gaps. Even those learners without disability will benefit from receiving information in multiple forms; in this way, learners may see and hear, which reinforces learning.
  3. What are the technological limitations for course media development for you as the instructor, in terms of resources and budget available?
    The more involved you plan to be in the individual learning activities and assessments of your students, the less complex materials may need to be - as previously addressed. In such a case, a well-notated PowerPoint along with live chat sessions may be appropriate, developed with relative ease, and not require any access to specialized equipment, software, technical personnel, or training. A fully automated learning environment, such as that required for independant coporate training, may require the development of streaming audio, streaming video, animations, and automated entry and exit features. Consider the possible need for access to specialized equipment, software, and technical personnel.
  4. What is the timeline/deadline for the course offering?
    The more complex the design and automation of the system, the more time it will take to implement finished course products. When planning out a timeline for project completion, do take the following into consideration: time needed for content experts to draft materials, time needed for materials to be translated into a working storyboard (in the event of automated course product development), time needed for development of prototypes or drafts of working models, time needed for proofing and revision, and time needed for follow-up testing and rollout.


Continuum of Delivery Complexity
No Instructor Oversight / Learner IndependenceInstructor Oversight / Learner Dependence
Complexity of Automation /  Computer Assisted LearningNo Automation / Human Intervention


Need some experts at your disposal? Want assistance with the Instructional Design process? Need an expert to help you record audio files? Check the "Resources" section for links to experts right here on the NDSU campus!


Step 5: Assessment and Evaluation

Last, but certainly not least, it is important to determine not only the benefit to the learner as a result of interacting with the course, but also the course itself.

Extensive resources for assessment can be found under the "Assessment" link.

In terms of course design, consider the following:

  1. How will course objectives be assessed or evaluated?
  2. At what points along the course path will learners engage in assessment or evaluation activities?
  3. Will progression through the course materials be mitigated by assessment or evaluation completion or performance level?
  4. How will students receive feedback about assessment or evaluation performance?
  5. How will course quality be assessed or evaluated?
  6. What aspects of the course will be considered as part of assessing or evaluating course quality (e.g. student matriculation and completion, student satisfaction, student achievement)?



Course Maintenance

Your course is up and running, now what? Find out about grading and reporting policies and procedures, managing student access and rosters, and end-of-term procedures.


Managing Student Access

If you teach a course as part of an academic program, students may change participation status by either dropping (leaving) or adding (joining) your course. NDSU maintains specific deadlines regarding either of these two actions. In academic program courses, drop and add actions are processed electronically through the Campus Connection (Peoplesoft) system. These changes may not appear or populate through a course website (Blackboard). As the course instructor, from time to time, you will need to compare the course roster as listed in Campus Connection to your Blackboard roster and adjust student permissions accordingly.


Granting Blackboard Course Access to a Student

In general, students are added to your Blackboard course as part of the Campus Connection registration process. However, at some time it may become necessary for you to grant access to a student manually. Use these easy steps to complete the process:

  1. Select "Control Panel" from the navigation bar of your course site.
  2. Under the heading "User Management" (upper right-hand corner of screen), select "Enroll User."
  3. Choose an option to search by - last name or email address of the student you want to add.
  4. Select the "Search" button.
  5. Select the "Add" checkbox next to the name of the student.
  6. Select "Submit."
  7. The default role of any newcomer to a course site is "Student." Student permission allows the person to access any areas of your course site that have been made available. Students cannot access the "Control Panel" or any of the items that you have set to "Unavailable."


Grading & Reporting

If you are teaching a course that is offered for credit as part of an academic program, you must report grades for your students to the office of the Registrar. Every course term has specific deadlines for reporting these grades. Grade reporting is done electronically through the CampusConnection (Peoplesoft) system, which can be accessed online.

  • Grade Reporting Deadlines: A link to the NDSU Office of Records and Registration Deadlines page, which maintains up-to-date academic schedules.
  • Campus Connection: A link to the official home page for the NDSU CampusConnection System.
  • All About Grading with Campus Connection: A link to NDSU Office of Registration and Records listing grading policies and including step-by-step instructions for entering grades into the CampusConnection system.
  • Login information for Instructors: A link to helpful information about how to obtain a CampusConnection Username and Password and related forms from the Office of Registration and Records.

How do students view their grades in your Blackboard course website?

  • Method 1:
    • Login to Blackboard
    • Select the link to the Course site
    • Navigate to the location of the exam or assignment in the course site
    • Exams: The student will be able to see posted grades after he Instructor has completed the grading process, including any feedback that the instructor has provided
    • Assignments: If the Instructor has used the "Assignment" feature, students will be able to download a copy of the reviewed file that has been posted
  • Method 2:
    • Login to Blackboard
    • Select the link to the Course site
    • Select the "Tools" link or the "Course Tools" link on the navigation bar
    • Select "My Grades"
    • A view of the gradebook for the course will appear - selecting an individual score for an exam or assignment will reveal more detail about feedback and otehr information the instructor has provided (The Gradebook is private; a student will not see entries for other students)
  • Method 3:
    • Login to Blackboard
    • Select the "View Grades" link from the "My Blackboard" screen
    • Select the link for the desired Course
    • A view of the Gradebook for the course will appear - selecting an individual score for an exam or assignment will reveal feedback and other information the instructor has provided

How do students view their grades using Campus Connection?

  • In the Campus Connection system, final course grades are available as an "Unofficial Transcript."
  • Campus Connection Student Help Pages (Scroll down from top of page to see menu of available help documents).


Ending the Term

Dismissing Student Access from Your Blackboard Site 
In general, student access to Blackboard sites is handled automatically; however, at some point it may be necessary for you to remove a student's access manually. Use these easy steps to complete the process:

NOTE: If you remove a student from a course site - ALL work, submissions, and other records associated with that student will be purged and cannot be recovered. Please use this feature carefully.

  1. Select the "Control Panel" link on the navigation bar.
  2. Under the heading "User Management" select the "Remove Users from Course" option.
  3. Select the "List All" tab.
  4. Select "List." This will show a list of all participants in your course site.
  5. Select the checkbox next to the name of the student/participant to remove.
  6. Type the word "YES" in the text box provided.
  7. Select "Submit."




Course Evaluation

Prior to the end of your course term, you will receive a link, by email, to the online evaluation for your course. This email will include step-by-step instructions for how to link the evaluation to your Blackboard course website. All evaluations include the six standard university questions.

If you have questions about Student Rating of Instruction (SROI) course evaluations:

  • Contact the NDSU Group Decision Center at 701-231-6414.

What constitutes a great course? Quality can be defined and measured. Read more about course assessment or about Student Ratings of Instruction (SROI).



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