Houston, We Have Liftoff! Successfully Implementing Your Course Design

Cliff Rouder

Congratulations! You’ve put in the time and hard work to think meaningfully about course design for significant learning. You’ve considered your course’s unique situational factors and then developed meaningful learning goals, authentic assessments that measure students’ achievement of those goals, and learning activities that enable them to get practice and feedback to prepare them for your assessments. Everything is in perfect alignment. You’re totally psyched to begin the semester now that you’re armed with, if you do say so yourself, a course designed to help learning take off. Nothing much left to do except hit autopilot and watch the magic unfold. Well…not so fast.

In this last blog post of the Course Design Summer Series, we now look at how to implement the design for maximum impact. To keep your course humming smoothly, here are four key ways to successfully implement your course design.


We want students to be excited about the course, realize its value, and feel like they can meet your high expectations. One way we can do this is by making transparent why you’ve selected the learning activities and assessments, and how both align to the learning goals.

Communication is key. When and how should we do this? Early and often is the mantra, and here are some ways to do it:

  • Send a pre-semester welcome email or video. Start piquing students’ interest by telling them why you’re passionate about the course, your hopes and goals for them, and how you’ll support their learning.
  • Include messaging throughout the syllabus. Take that (usually) boring course description that is required on the syllabus and give it a face-lift. Whet your students’ appetite by telling them what big and meaningful questions this course will answer, what important ideas or issues they’ll grapple with, and what valuable skills they’ll be equipped with for future courses (and for life)! Explain their role as active learners in the course and why that’s of value. Be transparent with your high expectations as well as the things you will do to support their learning. 
  • Include messaging throughout the semester. At every class period, you can articulate the value of what they’re learning and the purpose of the activities they’re doing in and out of class to aid their learning. Better yet, ask them to articulate the value! Same goes for why you’ve chosen the types of assessments you’re giving them. Keep connecting the activities and assessments to the course goals so students can see the big picture.


Take a moment right after class (or as soon as possible) to reflect on how the day’s activity or assessment went. “Was it a hero or a zero?” as Laurie Grenier from the TV show Shark Tank asks. If it was a zero, don’t let that dissuade you from trying again next semester. See if you can determine what went awry and find ways to tweak it. Were students adequately prepared for the activity? Were the directions and prompts clear and did they hit that sweet spot of being challenging without being too far above your students ability? Was there a tech fail? If you do notice something not working in the moment and aren’t sure why, remember that you could always ask your students.  


After students get their grades on the first major assessment, think about getting formative course feedback from them. What elements of the course are working or not working for them? What can you be doing differently to help support their learning? What could they be doing differently to support their learning? Be sure to address the feedback in your next class session. Tell them what you’re going to keep doing and what you’re going to change (and why!) and be sure to follow through. If you’d prefer to call in an educational developer from the CAT, we can do a mid-semester instructional diagnosis. We would meet with your class without you present to get consensus feedback and then prepare a report to review with you and discuss strategies for implementing any changes you’d like to make to the course.


At semester’s end, incorporate an activity that asks students to review their body of work and let them self-assess whether they believe they’ve met the course goals (and why or why not). You could also ask them to write a letter to future students about the design of the course and what advice they might have for maximizing their success in the course.

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So, take pride in the work you’ve done to design (or redesign) your course, make the design elements transparent for your students from the start, be open to self-reflection and student feedback on the design, and have the best fall semester ever! And remember that you are not alone. As always, the CAT is here to help you design and implement your course via 1-1 consultations, teaching observations, and mid-semester instructional diagnoses.

Cliff Rouder, Ed.D., is Pedagogy and Design Specialist at Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

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