Determining Course Content

It can be difficult to select the appropriate amount and depth of content for your course. There is unlimited material available and knowledge is always changing. Students come to your course with diverse backgrounds and levels of experience with the content.

Course Topics

Your department curriculum guides your course by highlighting important knowledge for your students. This knowledge guides your selection of broad topics basic to your course. The course context and goals you have determined for your course impact your selection of specific course topics.

Guiding Questions

“What core foundational knowledge is important in my department curriculum?”

“How does my course context determine the depth or breadth of the content I choose for my course?”

“What content must my students work with to meet the goals I set for my course?”

Example 1 

Course context: You have 20 students in a 200 level general education course. Your assigned classroom seats 25 students with movable desks. Field trips to community gardens are pre-arranged. Classroom has white boards, and computer and projector.

Goal: Students will design a garden

Objective:  Given a site for a garden, students will be able to talk to stakeholders about their needs, and select a garden theme for the proposed garden.

Based on the theme selected, students will be able to develop a design plan for a garden that is appropriate to the location and climatic conditions.

Bloom’s Outcome Level: Analysis, Synthesis

Possible Course Topics:

  1. Steps of the planning process
  2. Climate influences for local gardening
  3. Gardens as a resource for communities
  4. Garden themes
  5. Working with stakeholders

Selecting Sources and Representations of Content

Representing content in many different applications such as web resources, newspapers, art collections, photography, web resources, movies and stories can enhance your course and increase the identification and interest of students with different backgrounds as well as learning styles. To increase motivation and learning, include real world applications important to your field of study.

Students can also generate content while participating in learning activities in your course; gathering data from interviews, observations and experiments.

Guiding Questions 

“What types of resources are important for my students to access?”

“What content topics might represent some of the interests and backgrounds of my students?”

“Do I wish to introduce real world applications or cases in my course?”

Example

 Course Context: You have 20 students in a 200 level general education course. Your assigned classroom seats 25 students with movable desks. Field trips to community gardens are pre-arranged. Classroom has white boards, and computer and projector.

Goal: Students will design a garden

Objective 1: Given a site for a garden, students will be able to talk to stakeholders about their needs, and select a garden theme for the proposed garden. 

Possible Course Content: Application, Analysis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy

  1. Purposes of gardens
  2. Climate zones and influences on local gardening
  3. Defining different themes for gardens (Color, bulb gardens, cottage gardens etc.

Sources of Content: 

  • Newspaper article about how a poorly planned garden led to poor results
  • Diagram of a well-planned garden from lay source
  • Academic article
  • Textbook: Landscape planning chapter

Representations of Content: 

  • Organic garden on a local farm in NC
  • Urban garden on a rooftop in another country

Student-generated Content:

  • Interview from a local gardener about planning
  • Observation of a landscape planning group
  • Description of garden the student’s family had planted

Possible Assessment Item: Short paper describing the theme chosen and reasons for the choice. 

Assessment Tool: Grading checklist

Sequencing and Organizing the Content

Students need background knowledge to grasp more complex content. It is effective for topics to build upon one another and lead towards an integration of ideas by the end of the course. Educational researchers find that students learn best when information is presented in multiple formats. Content can be organized by historical occurrence, category, complexity, etc.

Further Resources from NC State

Embedding Diversity in Course Content and Assignments by Richard W. Slatta, originally in NCSU FCTL Newsletter, 1 (November 2006): 1, 4-5.

Copyright

NCSU Libraries Copyright and Digital Scholarship Center. This site contains information on copyright ownership and use of third party copyrighted materials in teaching and research.

Using Copyrighted Works. This site provides functional knowledge of copyright law effecting every faculty member.

References

Choosing Content to Achieve Overarching Goals from 2005 On-line Course Design Tutorial developed by Dr. Barbara J. Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Dr. R. Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary) as part of the program On the Cutting Edge, funded by NSF grant DUE-0127310.